School Beat

by Sally Payson Hays on December 29, 2004

(This week’s column continues the overview of the implementation of Proposition H, passed in 2003, which will provide City funding to the San Francisco Unified School District.)

The planning for the disbursement of City funding to San Francisco’s public schools as stipulated in Proposition H is complex. To understand where we are in that process of decision-making it is important for readers to know the overall procedure. Community meetings were held and various stake holders presented to the Prop H Community Advisory Committee from September through December with the goal of gathering information. During January, this Committee and the First Five Commission will be formulating recommendations to give to Superintendent Ackerman, which are due February 1, 2005.

Dr. Ackerman will then go through the recommendations and make suggestions or alterations. After this, she will submit a proposal to the City Controller, who will in turn make up a detailed spending schedule. This will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for approval. At this point, members of the Prop H Advisory Committee may be asked to give further feedback, and at all stages, the proposal is subject to revision.
No matter what, the funding will begin on a fixed schedule beginning in Fall 2005. There are some non-negotiable requirements of the bond measure. For example, it is very clear that one third of all funding be targeted to Sports, Libraries, Arts, and Music (SLAM). How this one third will be disseminated and for which area at what time, is what the committee is now discussing. Another third of the money is to be allocated for in-kind services, including learning support services and other programs currently supported through SFUSD’s Department of Health.

What we must be wary of is thinking that the money infused into the district will solve all of the needs faced by the district. As the committee has proceeded, it has been abundantly clear that while Proposition H funds offer a much needed support for vital school services, these are areas that have been woefully under-funded at the State and Federal level for decades. Thus, it will not be possible to meet all of the goals and demands of all constituents with even such a large sum as $60 million per year. As a result, the committee has been discussing the best ways to distribute the money– thinking both in terms of the greatest needs, and greatest impact. Complicating the issue are state and federal requirements, financial realities, and how to use (or not) existing resources.

One of the problems discussed is the conflict between state and federal requirements for certificated personnel to teach, and how arts programs have increasingly been staffed since the implementation of Proposition 13. Most arts providers in SFUSD schools are not certificated; although some– in music particularly– are. Since enrichment programs have often been paid for through grants, or as fund-raising efforts on the part of parents, a large percentage of programs in the school are provided by outside consultants who may be less likely to become certified. (This is actually a self-perpetuating cycle, since with fewer jobs available to certificated arts and athletics providers, fewer get certified.)

In the meetings, the issue of credentialing was much discussed. Especially as funds expand, there will not be enough credentialed art, music, PE teachers and librarians to meet the need if it is required to have credentialed teachers instead of non-credentialed specialists for programs funded by Proposition H. Of course, it is possible to recruit nationally for credentialed staff, and some ideas have been posed regarding scholarship support for current providers to become certificated in turn for service in the district.

A few have argued that in the beginning, it may be necessary to be flexible funding consultants. In other words, the best-case scenario may be to have a phased in approach: a graduated goal for numbers of certificated personnel to be working in schools, which expands along with the increase in spending. No matter what, the district will have to adhere to No Child Left Behind requirements and the Union, SFUSD Attorneys, and Human Resources need to sit at the table to figure out how to fund these positions and how to problem solve for a long-term solution.

Use of consultants poses a number of problems as well as benefits. It is hard to regulate quality, and outside consultants can be more expensive, since a teacher usually has to work alongside. Also, there is no way to ensure that education follows a specific sequence, or that core curriculum is followed.
Many great programs in SLAM and other extra resources depend upon grant money and parent fundraising and are cut when funding ends. This means there is often no consistency from school site to school site, or even from year to year.

Moreover, the inequity between schools dependent upon parent involvement and expertise has exacerbated the perception that some schools in San Francisco are good and others bad. Nonetheless, many comments made during the community meetings made clear the importance of not penalizing school communities that have been resourceful in funding programs, and that even with outside funding, money is unreliable, and most schools still suffer from an inability to plan long-term.
It was also pointed out that SFUSD has often made lemonade from lemons, and some benefits of the current system should be acknowledged.

For example, with outside consultants sometimes teachers get the opportunity to have arts and athletics education modeled for them, and students often have the opportunity to work with vibrant artists to whom they otherwise would not be exposed. The difficulty is to preserve the benefits of having outside consultants, expand our base of certificated personnel, and diminish the problems of inequity and lack of sequential learning standards.

In the beginning, due to the gradual pace of funding expansion, it is likely that a compromise will have to be reached. Short-term or long-term compromise will depend partly upon goals outlined in SFUSD master plans, as well as human resource issues as defined by legal requirements and union cooperation.
Unfortunately, the reality is that current funding is unlikely to change at the state and federal level. Even with Proposition H money, we must be creative to figure out solutions and think outside the box. This is true both in terms of solving credentialing issues as well as leveraging Proposition H money to make the most out of it.

Some Questions for our readers:
.What are the areas of greatest need and what should be targeted first?
.Should some portion of funding be allocated to help planning and development? How much? How should it be used?
.Should some portion of funding be allocated to leverage funding– collaboration model with outside providers? How much? How should it be used?
.Should there be seed money to match outside funding sources for SLAM?
.How explicit/flexible should the directives be to individual school sites?
.Should the Prop H money be an equalizing tool between schools with an unequal amount of arts funding (taking into account parent fund-raising, grants, etc.)?
.Should Prop H money be an equalizing tool for funding in response to current resources provided (i.e. elementary schools having no PE), and what would that look like?
.What is the goal for SLAM?
a) to meet qualifying standards
b) to build up a cadre of credentialed providers
c) to pull in community resources to the schools
d) all of the above
Why?
.How would the school schedule need to be changed to provide time for SLAM (year-round, after school) Possibilities not yet considered?

To give feedback, please contact the Community Advisory Committee at: proph@sfusd.edu. More information about Proposition H can be found at: http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/default.cfm?page=initiatives.prop_h
Sally Payson Hays, Ph.D. is a public school parent, the President of the Monroe PTA, a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco, and a parent representative on the Proposition H Community Advisory Committee.

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