Do not divest from direct student services to balance S.F. school budget

‘A cruel austerity agenda is the antithesis of what our students and schools need’

By Cassondra Curiel

Special to The Examiner

At a time when our children have never needed their public schools and services more, San Francisco Unified School District management is pushing a foolishly anti-student austerity plan that proposes to cut direct services to students and negatively impact schools and classrooms. And the real head scratcher is that these proposed cuts come at a time when the state, in its wisdom, is proposing a giant infusion of tens of millions of dollars in school funding.

Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Education will take up a budget plan that would slash $50 million from our kids’ school budgets and an additional $10 million from direct services to students. This would jeopardize funding for social workers, family liaisons, literacy coaches and special education staff as well as increase class sizes in some schools. The plan also seeks to lay off 360 full-time employees, at a time when the school staffing crisis continues to balloon locally as well as across the state and nation.

The prospect of layoffs also dramatically impacts the ability to hire teachers and paraeducators to replace the hundreds of current vacancies, notwithstanding the proposed 360 pink slips.

One terrible and specific example of what’s at stake: On the chopping block is the district’s funding for our only two community school coordinators. In the overall scheme of the budget, those two positions would be a drop in the bucket —about $300,000 annually — which makes it so maddening, given the state’s ongoing investment in and commitment to funding community schools. Community schools provide the kind of services and programs that so many of our students desperately need — onsite housing, community partner coordination, alignment of programming and resources and technology and counseling, to name a few.

The two certificated community school coordinators connect with community groups, companies, agencies and elsewhere to secure resources for their schools. Without a dedicated and credentialed point person, such secured resources would fade away. There is near-universal agreement that community schools are highly successful education modelsthat can and should be replicated throughout The City and state, but that can’t be accomplished without certificated school-site coordinators in charge of the effort.

Gov. Newsom gets it. He has proposed an extraordinary investment in community schools — up to $500,000 for each community school annually throughout the state over the next five years. So why eliminate these two coordinator positions? It makes absolutely no sense.

We are a cash-strapped school district that is creating miracles every day on a threadbare budget. The prospect of 10% cuts to school budgets — plus the proposed layoffs of hundreds of teachers, paraeducators and other staff — would be a debilitating blow to students’ and parents’ expectations for a well-rounded, well-invested public education.

The district is facing two major problems: Because of years of fiscal mismanagement, there is now a $125 million deficit. Also, our schools have been historically underfunded, due in part to the consequences of Proposition 13, which caused a shift in support for schools from local property taxes to state general funds. California ranks just 39th in the nation in school funding. And the state doesn’t contribute anywhere near the 40% share of special education funding it is obligated to send to our district.

There is a way around this. Board member Matt Alexander has proposed a smart alternative budget to ward off many devastating cuts to school sites. It would significantly minimize negative impacts on students, cut the fat from the district’s top-heavy central office costs and make reasonable and necessary cuts to balance the budget. It is centered on ensuring investment for students, instead of further under-resourcing school communities. As Alexander has said, this “rightsizing” would bring the district in line with other districts and could improve the effectiveness of central services. That makes perfect sense.

I urge the Board of Education to do the right thing for every student and family in San Francisco. Our children have lost so much in the pandemic. So many are struggling and now is the time to invest, not divest, in great public schools with wide-ranging resources and supports to help our kids recover and thrive.

A cruel austerity agenda is the antithesis of what our students and schools need. We need a fair budget that will help our students thrive and ensure their schools can provide all the resources they need to feel safe, supported and successful.

Cassondra Curiel is president of United Educators of San Francisco.

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