Cut administration, not schools

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I received an interesting opinion piece this week from a group of teachers and parents working on sfbudgetblog.com, which looks at the San Francisco School District budget. They make some valid points:

By T.R. Amsler
Just when you think you’ve reached bottom, California schools find another shovel. Next year, San Francisco school children face even deeper cuts as many lose summer school, face increased class sizes and witness the dismissal of beloved teachers.

In identifying Sacramento as the crux of the problem, San Francisco schools superintendent Carlos Garcia has advocated a lawsuit against the state of California for failing to provide adequate funding to educate all children.
While we wait for a lawsuit that has not been filed, his proposed a 2010-11 budget slashes funding to classrooms while protecting central office jobs.

We wholeheartedly support Garcia’s effort to hold California accountable for the shameful under-funding of our schools. But change at the state level will take time—and in the meantime, we are baffled as to why, on a local level, he is not demonstrating the kind of ethical leadership we know he believes in.

Because of the state cuts, San Francisco must reduce its schools budget by $113 million over the next two years. The superintendent proposes making over 50% of those cuts from schools and classrooms. Over $8 million of the cuts are achieved by increasing K-3 class size—impacting our youngest and most vulnerable children. Over $8 million is slashed from Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant funds for the city’s lowest performing schools. Another $4.5 million comes from summer school programs for our struggling high school students. Garcia saves over $3 million by eliminating supplemental counseling funds for high schools supporting college readiness. Another $9 million is saved through furlough days, cutting instructional time for all students when we need to be expanding it.

Some say these draconian cuts are the only option. Some say we cannot find cuts in the central office because it is already lean. Yet the facts suggest otherwise: Compared to four similar-sized school districts (Elk Grove, Santa Ana, San Bernadino, and Capistrano), San Francisco spends significantly more on administration ($462 per student in SF compared to an average of $387) and less on instruction ($4,763 per student in SF compared to an average of $5,685).
Where does San Francisco spend its money instead of schools? This year, the district spent $340 million in centrally-budgeted services, as compared to $257 million in school-based funding. A portion of the central funds flows to schools in the form of centrally-funded staff, but the majority does not. There are many talented people working in the central departments, and many of the central services are helpful. But in a crisis, we must ask: do non-classroom-based expenditures better support student achievement than direct support of classrooms?

If San Francisco were to cut 20% from these central office budgets, we could save $68 million a year and close the budget gap without touching a penny of school-based funding. This would mean radically rethinking how the central office works—but if the alternative is radically slashing our schools, that’s some rethinking we cannot afford to put off.
Garcia’s proposal is to drastically defund school sites, fundamentally changing the experience of students and families. The radical shift however needs to happen not to families, but to the central office.

A group called the Children’s Allocation Team has created an alternative set of central office cuts that demonstrate the real possibility of protecting our schools and classrooms during this budget crisis. We need district staff to engage in this kind of creative thinking too.

In the San Francisco Chronicle on January 27, Superintendent Garcia wrote, “I recognize that we are in the midst of extraordinarily difficult economic times, but to place that burden on our children is morally unethical.” We agree.
Now we need our superintendent to make the morally ethical budget cuts he calls for. It is time to radically re-think the central office, not to fundamentally defund classrooms. We can, and we must, close the budget gap without touching classrooms and students.

T.R. Amsler has been a high school teacher and journalism teacher for ten years. SFbudgetblog.com is a collection of teachers, parents and administrators losing sleep to represent their investigations and analysis of the SFUSD local budget. Read, consider and contribute at www.sfbudgetblog.com

 

Comments

would wholeheartedly disagree with this. As a matter of fact I expect one of their representatives will be along very shortly to argue on the importance of spending vast amounts on administrative staff vs. spending it on classroom education.

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Mar. 22, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

right on T.R. Amsler! you are the voice and vision for so many!! we must push back these cuts in orde to insure justice and equity for ALL CHILDREN, not just the rich!!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

I say the district cut consultant costs. How much money does the district spend on consultants? I just learned that eve the assistant superintendents have a consultant to help them become better "instructional leaders". how absurd is that? Shouldn't they already have these schools before taking the job? Why isn't this money spent on the schools? Better yet, shouldn't this money be saved to reduce the budget?

Someone needs to investigate how the money is being spent in this district!

Posted by GuestSummer Day on Mar. 22, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

Newbies tend to think it's oh-so-easy, and Amsler's view is overly simplistic (he teaches in the 'burbs, not SF, I believe).

A savvy School Site Council (SSC definition below) veteran from one San Francisco school analyzed one of the posts on Amsler's blog. I'm summarizing that re-posting excerpts here:

The post in question claimed that SFUSD has higher administrative costs than other districts, and the SSC veteran I'm quoting called that post "amazingly misleading."

Administration expenditures "are higher on a dollar amount level, but as a
percentage of revenue they are actually lower than the average for the 5 districts cited."

Everything below, until my "end quote" indication, is a direct quote from the SSC veteran:

"In the PDF link he (Amsler) points out the Pupil/Student ratio but not the average class
size. The 4 other districts cited have average class sizes of between 27 and 29. SFUSD in that year was at 21. This severely skews our averages.

Instruction Related Services: much of the answer to the higher number in Instruction Related Services lies in our greater revenue overall. SFUSD has been more successful at securing restricted funds from the Feds and State and local (eg. Prop H) that are spent via this line item. More than 95% of the monies spent for Instruction Related Services in the SFUSD come from restricted sources. By comparison, only 82% were from restricted sources in San Bernardino. The other factor looks like it may just be quirkiness of districts. For example, San Bernardino spent less than 3% and Santa Ana spent less than 1% of their Instruction Related monies on textbooks. SFUSD spent almost 16%. SFUSD certainly does spend more money on consultants for Instruction Related Services but I really suspect these are things like artist contractors paid for via Prop H funds.

People would love to think there's lots of fat to cut at the SFUSD central office, but I just don't see it."

(End quote from SSC veteran)

(Definition of an SSC from the SFUSD website:) Each SFUSD school must have an elected School Site Council (SSC) to represent parents, students, community members, and school staff in the school governance process. The SSC has a number of important responsibilities, including: Reviewing and analyzing student achievement data, gathering community input, helping develop the Academic Plan and the school site budget, and monitoring the implementation of the plan and budget.

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 5:43 am

Instead of just quoting what someone else said, you might want to take a good luck at the percentages which are on their site - http://sfbudgetblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/administration-spending-in-...

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

The point is that the percentages don't take into account the numerous confounding factors --including the difference in class sizes.

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

to whoever wrote this. T.R Amsler does not work in
the "BURBS", as you so called, but if your not famiLiar
with JUNE JORDAN then you would know that , that
school which i attend is an URBAN school in the CITY of
SAN FRANCISCO . thank you very much. and i should
know, i see him teaching his class everyday. so
i feel that it is not necessary for you to post something up
with all of your facts not present. and thats all i have to say

signed a female 11th grade junior at June Jordan !

Posted by Guest . on Mar. 26, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

Right on "June Jordan junior" for speaking up here!!!
Wonder what would make that poster assume the writer teachers in the 'burbs and put that up without knowing for sure...
If your point isn't strong enough without making up something to discredit the person you are disputing, then that's a problem!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2010 @ 9:02 am

And to further respond to the "it's so simple!" misperception, here's an excellent blog post from Chronicle education reporter Jill Tucker on that evil villain "central office spending":

–107 people in the central office, costing $15.7 million, have jobs that range from the superintendent, to accounting, benefits, human resources, public outreach and board support staff. That’s just shy of 4 percent of the operating budget. (See the budget’s nifty pie chart on page 46.)
–81 people costing $9.5 million for other central administration/student support service folks, including the special education department, translation services, school health, and attendance accounting. (See page 47)
–And finally, the big-ticket category: 519 people costing $55.3 million. This central office group includes 303 district-wide custodians, 52 IT folks, 100 security personnel, the facilities department, purchasing, payroll, and other categories. Regardless of where they actually work, they are paid out of the central administration. (See page 48)

That means well over half those 750 central positions are either custodians keeping schools clean, security workers keeping schools safe or IT workers trying to keep the district’s thousands of computers running. Others are cutting paychecks, hiring teachers, assigning kids to schools and assessing children with special needs.

So, who or what do you want to cut to get the district back in the black?

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 5:51 am

The major problem with this analysis is that it makes the common error of failing to account for the fact that SFUSD is the only school district in California that is both a district and a county office. This is important because important chunks of district spending (like special education) are accounted from the County side and not the school district side. So, for example, in comparing "Instruction" spending in SF to statewide averages, that Instruction figure for SF does not include special education but special education spendind IS included in the statewide averages.
The reason why our spending on "Other outgo" is so much higher is that our contribution to special education is accounted for here -- our school district kicks in $30 million from the general fund every year as a way to shore up the programs we're required by law to provide to students with disabilities. In SF, that contribution is counted under "other outgo", while in other districts it is counted under "instruction."

Posted by School board member on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

The major problem with this analysis is that it makes the common error of failing to account for the fact that SFUSD is the only school district in California that is both a district and a county office. This is important because important chunks of district spending (like special education) are accounted from the County side and not the school district side. So, for example, in comparing "Instruction" spending in SF to statewide averages, that Instruction figure for SF does not include special education but special education spendind IS included in the statewide averages.
The reason why our spending on "Other outgo" is so much higher is that our contribution to special education is accounted for here -- our school district kicks in $30 million from the general fund every year as a way to shore up the programs we're required by law to provide to students with disabilities. In SF, that contribution is counted under "other outgo", while in other districts it is counted under "instruction."

Posted by School board member on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

The truth is that all districts have some discrepancies with regard to district versus county-side spending; however, one trend becomes depressingly clear when we look at the 2009/10 SFUSD budget: the amount of special ed. funding that stays in the central office is HUGE. This funding has been used to maintain a larger assembly of special ed. specialists in the central office rather than in the schools and it's more than a rumor, it's our district's reputation. I don't have the numbers, but this is a blog. I just hope someone looks into this. Unfortunately, the competence of some of these administrators in Central Office spec. ed. has been in question since the Rohas days. Over the years, we've watched them get kicked around from position to position, in and out of special ed. jobs. Now, maybe we can finally take a hard look into why San Francisco is so addicted to disproportionately identifying kids of color as special, and why we retain a larger administrative support staff in the central office to do so.

Posted by concerned SFUSD teacher on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

I just find it fascinating how much people will work and twist numbers and pass underhanded personal jibes to support district spending (I teach in SF by the way and before that at Tennyson in Hayward, hardly America's stereotypical suburb).

We definitely have an angle at sfbudgetblog, but more importantly we're trying to bring to light the decisions the district is making with scarce dollars. It'd be nice if district had more resources. They don't, and right now 55,000 students are going to need a whole lot more sacrifice from the district and less from their schools.

Check out the Children's Allocation Team budget for suggestions on how to make cuts at the central office. Check out the job titles of the 227 people in the district office who make more than the highest paid teachers. (And yes, many of them support schools, but none more than a child's teacher). We post all our data, all our links. Judge for yourself.

Best,
TR

Posted by T.R. Amsler on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

One trend becomes depressingly clear when we look at the 2009/10 SFUSD budget: the amount of special ed. funding that stays in the central office is HUGE. This funding has been used to maintain a larger assembly of special ed. related positions in the central office rather than in the schools and it's more than a rumor, it's our district's reputation. How much care trickles down to the students is never assessed. I really hope someone looks into this. Unfortunately, the competence of some of these administrators in central office spec. ed. positions has been in question since the Rohas days. Over the years, we've watched them get kicked around from position to position, randomly switching in and out of their supposed area of expertise when really they are simply there to provide an administrative buffer between top admin and the teaching staff with whom they find to be difficult. Now maybe we can finally take a hard look into why San Francisco is so addicted to disproportionately identifying kids of color as special, and why we retain a larger administrative support staff in the central office to do so.

Posted by concerned SFUSD teacher on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

One trend becomes depressingly clear when we look at the 2009/10 SFUSD budget: the amount of special ed. funding that stays in the central office is HUGE. This funding has been used to maintain a larger assembly of special ed. related positions in the central office rather than in the schools and it's more than a rumor, it's our district's reputation. How much care trickles down to the students is never assessed. I really hope someone looks into this. Unfortunately, the competence of some of these administrators in central office spec. ed. positions has been in question since the Rohas days. Over the years, we've watched them get kicked around from position to position, randomly switching in and out of their supposed area of expertise when really they are simply there to provide an administrative buffer between top admin and the teaching staff with whom they find to be difficult. Now maybe we can finally take a hard look into why San Francisco is so addicted to disproportionately identifying kids of color as special, and why we retain a larger administrative support staff in the central office to do so.

Posted by concerned SFUSD teacher on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

One trend becomes depressingly clear when we look at the 2009/10 SFUSD budget: the amount of special ed. funding that stays in the central office is HUGE. This funding has been used to maintain a larger assembly of special ed. related positions in the central office rather than in the schools and it's more than a rumor, it's our district's reputation. How much care trickles down to the students is never assessed. I really hope someone looks into this. Unfortunately, the competence of some of these administrators in central office spec. ed. positions has been in question since the Rohas days. Over the years, we've watched them get kicked around from position to position, randomly switching in and out of their supposed area of expertise when really they are simply there to provide an administrative buffer between top admin and the teaching staff with whom they find to be difficult. Now maybe we can finally take a hard look into why San Francisco is so addicted to disproportionately identifying kids of color as special, and why we retain a larger administrative support staff in the central office to do so.

Posted by concerned SFUSD teacher on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

One trend becomes depressingly clear when we look at the 2009/10 SFUSD budget and it's something that many of us teachers have been aware of for quite awhile: the amount of special ed. funding that stays in the central office is HUGE. This funding has been used to maintain a larger assembly of special ed. related positions in the central office rather than in the schools and it's more than a rumor, it's our district's reputation. How much care trickles down to the students is never assessed. I really hope someone looks into this. Unfortunately, the competence of some of these administrators in central office spec. ed. positions has been in question since the Rohas days. Over the years, we've watched them get kicked around from position to position, randomly switching in and out of their supposed area of expertise when really they are simply there to provide an administrative buffer between top admin and the teaching staff with whom they find to be difficult. Now maybe we can finally take a hard look into why San Francisco is so addicted to disproportionately identifying kids of color as special, and why we retain a larger administrative support staff in the central office to do so.

Posted by concerned SFUSD teacher on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 7:19 pm

You know, all these "Not fair!" comments are, simply, offensive.

SFUSD currently has noticed enough certificated staff - the overwhelming majority of whom teach in District 10 - to solve its budget deficit.

That's where we are right now, whether the state comes to its senses or not. SFUSD continues to prioritize consultants and administrators over teachers and students. The budget blog has a salary list, where we can discover that the district's public relations person (er, "Education Policy Analyst") makes over one hundred thousand dollars - and she's in good company with other administrators.

A wage cut would show solidarity with soon-to-be-unemployed teachers and paraeducators, so SFUSD will definitely not do it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

You know, all these "Not fair!" comments are, simply, offensive.

SFUSD currently has noticed enough certificated staff - the overwhelming majority of whom teach in District 10 - to solve its budget deficit.

That's where we are right now, whether the state comes to its senses or not. SFUSD continues to prioritize consultants and administrators over teachers and students. The budget blog has a salary list, where we can discover that the district's public relations person (er, "Education Policy Analyst") makes over one hundred thousand dollars - and she's in good company with other administrators.

A wage cut would show solidarity with soon-to-be-unemployed teachers and paraeducators, so SFUSD will definitely not do it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

I have been a loud critic of some district administrative spending -- a standout example is the $3.2 million contract to the National Urban Alliance for professional development (the BOE members my views are most aligned with are the ones who voted against it, to be clear).

But I think these claims that "it's simple" inevitably are heading toward the same propaganda I heard leading up to Prop. 13 (anyone else present and a California voter at that time? I was) -- all we need to do is cut the fat and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse -- it all leads up to claims that our schools don't need any more money. I think that's false, misleading and damaging.

Sorry for the outdated information about your employment.

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Mar. 25, 2010 @ 7:21 am

No, it seems pretty clear to me - what with the whole supporting suing the state (SFUSD has been talking about that for three years) and the advocacy for classroom spending - that the Budget Bloggers do support increased school financing.

The problem is that it's not going to save us for next year.

Next year, SFUSD should make the cuts that least impact the classrooms.

It is not.

Next year, SFUSD should abide by its strategic plan and prioritize its highest-need students.

It is not.

Attacking all critique of SFUSD as pro-13 agitation is ridiculous. Forgetting that real children and real educators are watching their schools be destroyed now is even more so. And critically, you must get used to the fact that knowledgeable people can disagree with you.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

Our argument at sfbudgetblog is not that the district office is this huge vacuum of wasted funds. However, each expense in the central office needs to measured against the cuts they are proposing for school sites. We'd like to see a justification for each expense that explains how this supports student learning more than the teachers who are being fired or the days students lose due to furlough. There are folks in the central office doing good work. But they don't teach my students, they don't revise their essays and they don't build relationships with their families. Right now we need to make hard decisions. Later we can build back the central office. Right now we need to support classrooms.

Posted by T.R. Amsler on Mar. 25, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

The fact remains that this critique is clearly riddled with inaccuracies and misconceptions. Spreading misinformation does not help the situation -- it does harm.

Spreading the view that SFUSD's operations are riddled with bloat, fat, waste and mismanagement creates the perception that our district does not need more funding, whether that's the intent or not.

Comparing SFUSD unflatteringly to other school districts -- also apparently based on inaccuracies and misconceptions -- does further harm to our district.

I am not saying that all critique of SFUSD is pro-Prop. 13 agitation -- that's a straw man. I am saying that THIS PARTICULAR CRITIQUE reinforces the viewpoint that our schools don't need any more money. That's harmful, and it's a mistake to promote it.

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Mar. 26, 2010 @ 5:13 am

I don't claim to be an expert, but I can still see that these pat statements aren't necessarily valid::

(Central Office personnel)

"... don't teach my students, they don't revise their essays ..."

There are teachers who are listed as Central Office expenses doing both, such as enrichment specialists. The Special Ed department, as controversial as it is, is a Central Office line item. I have no idea what else there may be, but you don't either -- and I don't claim to, while you do.

"... they don't build relationships with their families...."

The parent liaisons in many lower-performing schools are paid as a Central Office expense, though they work in the schools. Their direct function is building relationships with families.

Those expenditures and many others may well be discretionary and may not be our top priorities, but again, my point is that it's not as simple and clear-cut as you think.

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Mar. 26, 2010 @ 6:40 am

Unfortunately, SFUSD's budget is not as lean and mean as present circumstances (may) dictate for the coming school year.

Given the current situation of radical budget surgery, SFUSD needs to make some hard choices. The question is: what are the guiding principles of these choices?

There is widespread agreement that SFUSD should protect school sites by directing as much funding as possible to schools. This necessitates Central Office cuts. Since Central Office funding is partially dedicated to school site staff, that would leave whatever unrestricted resources are not serving schools or are too expensive to maintain in the current budget.

Alas, that's NOT what's getting cut. Consultant budgets remain quite high - APD has cut a lot of school-serving positions (TSAs who help teachers build their practice, for instance) but its consultant costs seem to continue to be predictably large. School sites are taking massive cuts, and elementary schools are being encouraged to sign off on site budgets that violate teachers' union contracts.

It's not that money is being wasted, necessarily. It is that SFUSD's cuts do not seem to meet the principles they claim are guiding them. Moreover, SFUSD is still unable to give much detail to any department's budget - while demanding that detail from school sites.

No one is arguing that this is simple and easy - talk about straw men - but many people are very concerned about SFUSD's budget decisions, be it concern over their choices or concern about their obscurity. And honestly, some of SFUSD's departments have been using money poorly for years at the expense of school sites. Is it wasted money? No. Is it money that was and is desperately needed in direct services to students? Yes.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

I agree about APD -- and especially the $3.2 million expenditure to the National Urban Alliance for professional development -- and other administrative expenses, and I agree that more transparency is essential.

My issues are with the way this particular crusade is being mounted, which encourages the public to believe that our schools don't need more funding.

The SF Budget blog referenced here says (direct quote):

"It’s simple. It’s within our power. We can do it now."

As you can see, that's not a straw man.

Once again: No, it's not simple, and it's harmful to proclaim that it is.

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Mar. 28, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

And this is where the disagreement is: Many people, with just as much understanding as you, believe it can be done differently, and in ways that have less impact on the classroom.

No one thinks it's a good situation.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

If you just look at the numbers from the budget you don't get a clear picture of central office waste. It is easy to hide behind a mountain of figures. Just look at the people and the efforts they support and evaluate on that basis.

I'll give an example. Last May the Board passed the Community Engagement and Parent Partnership Plan. The administration was supposed to respond back to the Board with a plan within 5 months. It is now going on a year and where's the plan? Several employees have worked on this effort. I have kept up on it and I can tell you what a scam it is. They supposedly did this and that, but it was all just a big show. They then came up with their plan, but didn't have the in-house staff to write it. What? The central office staff does not have the qualifications to write a proposal for the Board? They don't have the necessary skills? I thought that was one of the functions of an administration. So they hired an outside consultant, as they so often do, who wrote a plan that was quite different than what SFUSD wanted and has to be redone. How much did that cost? I could give you lots of examples of the games SFUSD plays and the way they pump money doen a hole. How about how the Media Office spends taxpayer dollars overseeing Your SF Public Schools blog, a privately concern. The public pays SFUSD employees to censor out unwanted anti-administration content on that blog. This is how Mr. Garcia spends our money.

We have so many central office personnel that do nothing, yet you can't get a call back when you make an inquiry. Our focus should be to supporting our classrooms and not on pumping up the political aspirations of the central policy makers. So if it is hard to break down the numbers on a budget without a full independent audit, parade each staffer in to explain what it is he or she does and if it doesn't seem to help students, fire them before you get rid of teachers.

Posted by Guest Don Krause on Mar. 30, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

Just for the record: I think everyone here agrees that there are cuts that need to be made before classrooms are touched. I certainly do.

However: I have a problem with publicly presenting the situation in a way that encourages the less-informed public to believe that our schools don't need more funding, and that's what I believe the original post does.

I also believe that the chart and the entire device portraying SFUSD as squandering more on "central office" spending than other districts is misleading, misinformed and similarly encourages the ill-informed to believe SFUSD's schools don't need more money. (The usual crap is that they just need "fiscal discipline," and that's exactly what the original post here feeds into.)

And, as noted, the original poster claims that "it's simple," in so many words. No, it's not, and it's harmful and misleading to claim that it is.

Those are the reasons I've been responding to the repeated repostings of this commentary -- not because I'm in favor of misplaced priorities that harm classrooms, needless to say.

Posted by Veteran parent advocate on Apr. 04, 2010 @ 9:17 am