School Board Funding Shell Game

by on January 14, 2010 · 6 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Education, San Diego, The Chronicles of Edumacation

A Budget Nightmare in the Making

Gov. Schwarzenegger promised to protect education with his budget last week. And, in a sense, he was right: this year’s cut are not as deep and wide as they have been in the past two budgets. So it depends on your definition of “protect”.

cutsbenThe Governor failed to mention the $1.5 billion education funding cut called for next year; nor did he highlight the decreased cost of living adjustment.  It’s not that his budget planners failed to tell him about the reductions–the governor earmarked $1.2 billion in administrative costs and $300 million in savings to be had by allowing districts to contract out for services. The problem is that those earmarks are unlikely to survive Legislative hearings.  And then there’s the little problem of the cuts—many of which were made to administrative budgets–that have already been made over the past two years.

As things stand right now, the San Diego Unified District is facing the prospect of slashing roughly $95 million from this year’s budget to cover 2010’s expenses.  That number will change, depending on the exact language used by legislators in hammering out a budget and the willingness of the Federal government to pony up additional funding.  California schools won’t have a real number to work with until mid-May at the earliest.  And then, if past years are any indication, they’ll have to borrow money (and pay interest) to cover operational expenses until the funds are actually released to school districts in October.

None-the-less, there are compelling legal reasons that make next year’s education budget an immediate crisis. School districts are mandated to have their budgets in place and existing labor union agreements require notices of any impending layoffs to be in the works by mid March.   Of course, any cuts in budgets must not touch the dozens (some say hundreds) of State and Federally mandated programs. Here are just a few of these types of protected plans:

Class size reduction Program, Migrant Education Program, Education for Homeless Children Program, Federal Title 1 Program, Economic Impact Aid Program, Special Programs for English Learners, Adult Education Program, Special Education Program, Vocational Education Program, School to Career Program, Agricultural Education Program, Carl Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Program, Gifted and Talented Education Program, Independent Study Program, Library Services Program, Foster Youth Services Program, Alternative Education Program, Opportunity School Incentives Program, School Safety Program, Community Day School, Title 1 Reading First Program, Title V Innovative Programs, Title II Math and Science Partnership Grants Program, Teacher and Principal Training Program, School Breakfast Program, and (let’s not forget) No Child Left Behind.

shellConfusing? You betcha! It helps to think of the budgeting process as a four dimensional shell game, where the shells and the peas under them randomly appear and disappear.  Last year the School Board went forward with a list of proposed cuts only to have to revise them on the fly as State legislators tinkered with mandated funding and the Federal government showed up at the table with a pile o’ stimulus money.

This year the SDUSD Board chose to take a different approach towards assembling a budgetary plan for next year: Dots.  Instead of choosing from a menu of possible budget cuts, the school board came up with a list of philosophical priorities.  Board members were given 25 colored dot stickers to indicate their votes for different values posted on sheets of butcher paper hung on a wall at the last school board meeting.  Many of the values were all-encompassing, others were over-lapping and some had no possible dollar value attached to them (i.e., “don’t hurt kids”).

The plan, as it were, is for the staff financial planners to now price out these “values” so the Board can determine which programs listed under each category to fund.  These dollar amounts will be reported to the Board on February 2nd, at which point decisions will be made.

Here’s a list of what the Board chose as its top values:

  • Raising the achievement level of all students, including gifted kids, English learners and students with disabilities.
  • A full curriculum including art, music, athletics, career technical education, programs in Old Town and Balboa Park, activities and classes that will make kids competitive for college admission.
  • Diversity, integration and school choice, such as magnet schools.
  • A safe and supportive environment including vice principals, police, counselors, nurses and instructional supplies.
  • Maintaining current class sizes
  • Classroom technology to help children learn.

As board member John de Beck pointed out, it’s likely that these “values” will total up to more “dollars” than the school district will have available for next year.  So it’s unlikely that any of the district’s programs are “safe” in any sense of the word.  Ultimately the choices that the school board will make will be dictated by the California budget that emerges from the wheeling and dealing in Sacramento. And it’s too soon to say just how much of a disaster that will be for San Diego’s public school kids, the parents who may have their lives re-arraigned next year with schools closings and program reductions and the people unlucky enough to have chosen education as a career.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar annagrace January 14, 2010 at 7:49 pm

It’s seem like part of the relief equation is for the federal government to pony up for a significant share of the cost associated with federally mandated education programs. (Schwarzenegger is currently drawing a line in the sand over federally mandated health care reform that will potentially add to the State’s debt.) We need another pile o stimulus.


avatar Sunshine January 15, 2010 at 9:14 am

Your understanding of this issue is magnificent only to be surpassed by your willingness to take a stand for what you believe in. Thank you for educating me on what’s currently going on in the public education sector here in San Diego. I know its merky waters well from personal experience as a student (K-6 in PA, 7-8 in IL, 9-12 in CA, higher ed in TX and CA) and through my sons public education experiences from K-9 in Riverside County. After his 9th grade year, we chose Homeschooling. The public education system he addended simply wasn’t addressing the values we deemed important. Values such as integrity, accountability, and spirituality. My heart goes out to all those directly and currently stewing in this pickled mess.

Keep writing, Doug, we’re listening! What can be done to help?


avatar doug porter January 15, 2010 at 9:45 am

Thanks all for the positive feedback on the writing I’ve been doing about education here. And a tip of the ol’ hat to Voice of San Diego for linking to our story today. Now, as to what can you do… keep watching this space. As I mentioned in my last post about edumacation (sic), I’m now crossing the line from citizen journalist to be citizen activist on this issue. We’re not quite ready for Prime Time yet, but there is a group of us (parents!) working on some very public and positive things that people can participate in the coming months as the budget process moves along. In the meantime, go to & check out our video (also post in the upper column next to this one).


avatar lane.tobias January 15, 2010 at 11:51 am

Dots? An innocent enough approach, and its clear the school board probably has the same “values” as parents generally would. I guess you hit the nail on the head though: these values are going to cost more than the district can afford. Im anxious to see how this plays out, particularly school choice/magnet schools and maintaining the current class sizes.

I am also interested in seeing how creative with resources the people in charge of budgeting will get; in terms of technology, what about spending top dollar to set up a few “technology rooms” in each school rather than retrofitting each classroom, and rotating students throughout the day so every child has access to top notch, state of the art technology every day? Im nto sure what the status quo is in regard to this, but that seems viable – When I was in elementary school, the internet still hadn’t taken off. So we only had access to computers once every few days. And look how savvy i am today! Just a thought.

Doug keep these coming. You are the epitome of a dedicated parent – I wish kids had parents like you.


avatar Katie Anderson January 15, 2010 at 11:54 am

Just a quick correction. Gifted and Talented Education is NOT a mandate in our state – its provided on a district by district basis. The state does fund $35. per year per student identified; but last year those funds became UN-restricted, so that if individual sites want to buy toilet paper with those funds they may. Or they may choose to use the funds to support the below average students in an effort to bring up their NCLB standing. What ever they do with it, the gifted students have been put, yet again, on the back burner and are now threatened with losing their programming all together because of the lack of mandate as the board spends the money on mandates and NCLB focused kids.


avatar John de Beck January 18, 2010 at 9:09 am

A good report. As I said, the process my board has followed is useless in determining how to save $90 mil. As to the two items I got on the priority list “don’t hurt kids” and “Retain quiality staff”, that reflected my view that we should not cut programs, and that the ONLY SOLUTION to the massive financial impact would be reducing staff pay. I of course want to see the School Board lead the way with a mininum of a 10% cut. Furloughs, I have decided, do hurt kids by shortening instructional time.


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