Superintendent threatens to sue state for school cuts

The superintendent of San Francisco’s public schools is threatening to sue the state in order to force long-term funding improvements.

At $7,000 per student, California ranks 46th in per pupil spending, and would slip to 50th if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposed in January is adopted by the Legislature, according to officials with the California Department of Education.

San Francisco public schools could have $40 million less to spend in the 2008-09 school year, and the district has already told 395 teachers and 140 administrators they could lose their jobs next year.

“If California schools keep being pushed, we will be forced to file a funding-inadequacy lawsuit against California,” San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia said at a news conference Thursday.

San Francisco, like many California public school districts, is currently juggling a number of unknowns. Schwarzenegger is scheduled to update his budget proposal in May, and the California Legislature would adopt a state budget in June at the earliest — but could takeuntil August or September if negotiations are contentious.

Meanwhile, state law requires schools to issue final layoff notices in May and adopt balanced budgets in June, Garcia said.

Additionally, while the school district qualifies for city rainy-day funds approved by San Francisco voters in 2003, the Board of Supervisors won’t approve the release of those funds until state cuts are finalized, according to Zach Tuller, aide to Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who authored the rainy-day reserve legislation.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has promised the district will receive up to $31 million from rainy-day funds.

Garcia, who already has begun conversations with education officials about the possibility of legal action against the state, said he would still consider approaching the school board about a lawsuit — even if the district receives rainy-day funds and if the state education cuts are not as severe as expected.

If he sues, it would be on the grounds that California is providing inadequate funds to for schools to meet their mandate to educate children, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

“This [lawsuit] is an attempt to fix this problem long-range,” Garcia said, referring to the governmental issues that have contributed to the state’s current per pupil spending levels. “We are the eighth-wealthiest economy in the world. I don’t expect an overnight fix, but let’s have a long-range plan.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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