Programs for struggling students face cutbacks

Millions of dollars worth of school programs that serve underprivileged students could be sacrificed due to the district’s looming $30 million deficit.

Districts statewide, including the San Francisco Unified School District, receive funding from the state called Tier 3 that has, until now, been considered categorical, or earmarked for a specific purpose.

The funds provided to the district support and monitor 39 schools with low academic performance. The funding also supports several art, counseling and pupil-retention programs.

As part of a trade-off for the cuts this year, state leaders have told districts that they may reallocate that money — about $59 million this year for San Francisco schools — to other educational needs.

“There might be certain things that we’re funding right now that we have to be brave enough as a board to eliminate,” Board of Education member Sandra Lee Fewer said.

The district received $74 million in Tier 3 funds for the 2008-09 school year. The state reduced that amount to about $59 million for 2009-10. As a result, the district reduced funding for all Tier 3 programs, as opposed to eliminating any particular one, said Myong Leigh, deputy superintendent of policy and operations.

Since the state has relaxed guidelines about how the categorical funds can be used, entire Tier 3 programs may be cut from next year’s budget and the money could be shifted to such needs as books, supplies and fundamental classroom resources, Fewer said.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state budget for 2009-10 in February, his office said the new spending plan “includes flexibility for categorical education funding [to] allow local schools and districts to use it as they see best fit to serve children and keep more money in the classroom.”

The change did not justify the cuts to education funding overall, said Leigh, who added the decision
also forces more questions on districts.

“Usually in budget development, we focus in the spring. We have to do the work immediately now. There are challenges. It’s not a typical situation,” he said. “This is not a solution to the completely inadequate funding.”

Leigh said he is currently working with staff members, along with veteran board member Jill Wynns, to look at how Tier 3 funds are being used in schools and where possible cuts could be made. Recommendations will eventually be brought before the board, he said.

Less funding means fewer programs

For the 2008-09 school year, the San Francisco Unified School District received about $74 million worth of Tier 3 funds, mostly earmarked for students attending schools with low academic performance. Before the 2009-10 school year started, the state reduced funds for Tier 3 programs.

The following are some of the areas that were affected:

                                                                   2008-09     2009-10
Physical education teacher incentive grants    $987,822    $791,838
School safety and violence prevention    $880,891    $706,122
California high school exit exam    $588,825    $472,002
Supplemental school counseling    $1,847,443    $1,480,910
Gifted and talented education    $453,376    $363,426
Certified staff mentoring program    $125,106    $100,285
Pupil retention grant    $972,901    $779,877

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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