On a recent evening, a group of PTA parents from Gage Elementary huddled together in the back of a Del Cerro bistro to brainstorm ideas for how to handle a school district that they say can’t or won’t answer basic questions about their children’s school.
At the table sat an exceptionally well-resourced group of parents. Lisa Deaton is a scientist for a pharmaceutical company. Megan Nuñez is a special education attorney. Jeff Bennett is a member of the National Guard who also serves on the District Advisory Council, an advisory board that makes recommendations for how the district should spend money to support students.
Enrollment at Gage Elementary, in San Carlos, has climbed for the past four years. And with a growing portion of students coming from the surrounding area, it’s becoming the kind of school the district says it wants to create in every neighborhood.
But the parents recently discovered that even when everything is working well within the school, outside forces can threaten its progress. In January, the district announced it was facing a $124 million deficit. In order to balance the budget, funding for programs and staff members are on the chopping block districtwide. Worst of all, parents say, is that they’ve found no one who can explain why.
In March, the district sent layoff notices to roughly 1,500 employees – including five at Gage: One gym teacher and four Spanish teachers. That’s not as many as schools in the district’s poorest areas, where upwards of 50 percent of teachers received a layoff notice this year. But parents say the layoffs at Gage would disrupt the school’s carefully structured dual-immersion language program and some of the very programs they credit for the school’s gains.
“It’s really an issue of really having the rug pulled out from under you,” said Lisa Darner, a real estate agent.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. I suggest the following: 1. Look at the Budget for the San Francisco School District, for a best practices benchmark, 2. Get a copy of the Budget submissions to the SD County Board of Education, and 3. Compare all number to those presented in the CAFR prepared for the SDUSD Bond sales, because it those numbers are misstated it can be criminal fraud. Finally, never forget how you and your children are being treated
Staffs prepare SUMMARY budgets for the economic illiterates elected to school boards. The secrets are in the detail budgets that no one can see.
School Boards should hire a libertarian-leaning Economics Ph.d. candidate who answers only to the Board, and can be fired if he is ever seen in the company of a Superintendent or staff member.
Sadly this is nothing new. I first endeavored to study the District budget around 2009 so I could understand the details and reasons for the massive deficits threatening insolvency at that time. The bottom line - no zero base budgeting, hope becoming a strategy and every increasing expenses that exceed revenues. Bottom line - fiduciary mismanagement and No Strategic Planning. Nothing has changed and the issues noted, no information forthcoming trying to get clarification on budget details has remained the same as well. Likely because the answers will only fuel the fire.
In a nut shell, I can easily explain some of the more outstanding problems:
1. Employee compensation (salary and benefits), inclusive of certificated and classified represent upwards of 95% of the General Fund. This is the discretionary fund used to "run" the District. That leave five (5) cents for every dollar to pay for everything else for our students and programs..
2. The State has passed a bill that requires every increasing General Funds to return to the State (for the next 22 years) to fund the underfunded Teachers retirement fund (CalStrs)
3. Teachers must be notified of layoffs prior to the ability of the District to finalize next years budget
4. When you have a huge deficit, the ONLY way you can make up the difference (see 1 above) is for layoffs and State Ed Code has Last in First Out (LIFO) which math then requires that more certificated be "laid off" since they have lower salaries then the longer tenured certificated
5. The SDEA continues to negotiate a CBA with increases in Salary with corresponding increases in Step and Column regardless of the financial limitations of the revenues - in other words, the District continues to ignore that fact that you can not spend, more than you take in.
6. Health Care, for which 100% for District employees inclusive of dependents is covered and paid for by the district, costs continue to increase as do other operational costs taxing the General Fund - utilities, etc...
7. There are many more issues which contribute to the budgeting problem (recognize the issues that will become an issue down the road with Bond Measure interest payback, SERP offers, etc...) that will continue to put pressure on the budget as long as nobody is looking at a strategic plan that focuses on reality and not HOPE and puts our children's education as the priority. With adults first and fiscal naiveté, this is what happens.
To be flippant:
It's just Deja Vu all over again and the true definition of insanity.
"....a lot of this is probably going to be forgotten by the time the next election rolls around...." Somehow I doubt this, thanks to the bird dogging coverage Mario, Ashley, Ry and others are continuing to provide. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of new, unpleasant surprises with this district, and if dogged, aggressive reporting can bring about change, this is a Pulitzer opportunity for VOSD. Your stuff is getting picked up by the U-T, some of the local TV stations and occasionally out of town reports, so there's plenty of backup for your efforts. Just keep at it.
You have to ask yourself, however, "Where are the candidates" for school board, because the teacher's union seems to run the show completely. This has to change to provide a reorientation toward students rather than staff. To those with students in the system, it must feel like the whole thing is coming apart despite the glorious "graduation" rates.
Here's a toast to your continued success on this effort, hopefully with water not provided from the drinking fountains.