We cannot fight the cuts if we don’t question the budget
by Antonia Sanchez
After nearly two years of the unprecedented health crisis that is the Covid 19 virus, we as educators face yet another daunting threat- that one of the last standing social services to support our community will be gutted. We are told we are in a fiscal “crisis”, that cuts are inevitable, that we will need to make hard decisions about concessions and pauses to our existing contract. But upon close examination it is clear the actual financial capacity of the District has been, at best, misrepresented, and at worst, manipulated. We as educators, students, and families, need transparency and full disclosure of the District finances especially in light of the following:
School attendance has suffered a 6% decrease due to the conditions of Covid 19. (1) This means that our portion of ADA is said to have diminished. Small class size is the premise for the district accusation that we are “over resourced” and need to accept cuts. Some reasons for low attendance include 1. Increase in home- schooling by fearful families, often affluent, who have a parent or grandparent able to watch over children 2. Severely destabilized lower income families who have lost employment and housing security as a result of illness and business closures. 3. An unprecedented loss of staff that has taken early retirement, medical leaves, who refuse substitute jobs, or who have quit. (2, 3)
All of these effects of the Pandemic were supposed to have been mitigated by the Federal COVID Aid Relief funding. SFUSD published on its website in August a minimum amount of 140 million received for this purpose. The first disbursement occurred in March, with subsequent money to come. According to EDSource the amount may well be more like 185 million, (4) an enormous windfall to shore up our beleaguered schools. The Federal guidelines specified the money to be used for learning recovery and for health and safety. Expressly forbidden is the use of the funds to substitute for prior funding sources. In addition, the guidelines specify that at both the State, and the local district level, there be broad community input at regular 6 month intervals for how the money should be spent. (5).
According to CNN- “The approved state plans -- which are posted on the department's website (6) -- detail a variety of Covid-19 safety measures and initiatives that school districts across the country are implementing with the federal dollars. Highlights include improvements to ventilation systems, additional education staff and new academic programs to address learning loss during the pandemic.
FutureED itemized the breakdown of suggested expenditures as follows:
Improving coordination among state, local, tribal and other entities to slow the spread of Covid-1
Providing resources that principals need to address coronavirus at their schools
Supporting school district efforts to improve preparedness
Addressing learning loss especially among disadvantaged students, including those living in poverty, learning English, experiencing homelessness, dealing with disabilities or living in foster care
Training staff on the best ways to sanitize schools and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
Purchasing PPE and the supplies needed to clean and disinfect schools. The CDC has provided an analysis of the costs (7) of such resources.
Planning for school closures
Purchasing the hardware and software needed to conduct remote and hybrid learning
Providing services to support student mental health
Supporting afterschool and summer learning programs
Using evidence-based approaches to address learning loss, which can include assessments and distance learning equipment
Repairing school facilities, especially ventilation systems, to improve air quality and reduce spread of Covid
Unfortunately, as we all can attest, SFUSD chose not to spend the $140 million for the intended purpose. Our schools have lost, not gained. We are without an adequate number of nurses, without additional mental health services, without additional after school programs, without adequate teaching staff, even without adequate PPE. According to UESF even the recent disbursement of 10 face N95s per staff person were privately donated. In addition, there have been no regular meetings with educators and families to discuss how to spend the 140 million. According to UESF, SFUSD has said they used the money to pay down a debt. With such obvious need how did the schools miss out on the federal money? According to FutureEd, Biden’s American Rescue Plan lacked firm mandates or penalties, and instead allowed for great “flexibility” without oversight. As a result our schools have been expected to function as normal and without the necessary support to welcome back both students and staff and to reassure the community of the safety of the school environment. Reeling from the conditions of COVID, we are now told we must accept cuts to our already skeletal staffing.
However, what is most distressing is the fact that after the COVID relief funds were disbursed, and before schools reopened in August, in June 2021 the Governor announced his Budget Act for 2021-2022. In the Act is specified an incredible windfall for per pupil spending of ca. 20%, from 16881.00 per pupil to 23,089.000. In addition, Local Control Funding Formula funding has increased especially for Title One, impoverished schools, and includes substantial money for community schools with wrap- around services. (8) But, according to UESF, the district did not apply for the community schools grant, thus SFUSD schools are not eligible for that funding. Neither did the district apply for the State administered PPE/Covid testing disbursement. Incredibly, for the first time in over twenty years, going from 46th in the nation, California is now funded at above average levels for the country and approaches the level of the robust Massachusetts public schools. (9) Clearly, our district has not been as well funded in decades and instead of cuts we should be talking about rebuilding, expanding, and healing. What is worse, the district knew that substantial funding was on its way, rejected important resources, and was well aware any shortfalls could be managed.
How can we make sense of the district’s behavior? We are constantly told this is an “anti racist” district, that we must strive for “equity” and that it is incumbent on the educators to ensure our most marginalized students succeed. All the while, the same district has denied funds to those young people who need it most, those who are the majority of our public schools. These are the same students whose parents are essential workers, who suffered the brunt of the pandemic, whose meager savings were depleted first, who were the last hired and the first fired, who lacked medical insurance, and who got sick and died in the greatest numbers from COVID 19. For these students, schools are one of the only remaining environments that provide nourishment, mentoring, and stability. Cuts to the schools in the midst of plenty is thus tantamount to piling further insult onto the already injured, in glaring contradiction to the district’s stated goal of equity.
Clearly, in order to understand this contradiction, the important fact to note, but so far ignored, is that our Superintendent, Vincent Matthews, comes from the privatization movement. The purpose of the movement is to eviscerate public institutions, erode the guardrails of the unions, and make public resources available for profit ventures in the private sphere. By a steady starvation of funding, public institutions can be seen to “fail” at our mission. The public is the target for the misinformation and it is their dissatisfaction that can be manipulated into support for a private “solution”. Unions are commonly accused as the culprits that somehow allow shoddy service to prevail. Our Superintendent, like many superintendents of inner city schools, is a graduate of the Eli Broad institute whose mission it is to privatize education. Privatization can take the form of charter schools that claim ADA, use district public buildings, hire non-union educators, and skim the surplus tax dollars for the CEOs profits. This course was, in fact, the way chosen by Vincent Mathews as state appointed administrator for Oakland Unified Schools. After his tenure, Oakland schools were left with crippling debt, crumbling buildings, staff that were forced to take a 5% pay cut, and a record number of charter schools that continue to drain meager resources.
But privatization can also take the form of subcontracting district jobs to non union, off site entities. In the last 25 years we have had a series of pro privatization superintendents. In the most recent period, under Mathews, we see the shift to subcontracted school bus service,(startup Zum) private after school programs (10), private mental health services, private substitute educator service “Scoot”, and most ominously, private COVID safety measures. Thus, instead of opting into the State testing apparatus, SFUSD has contracted the company “Color” to distribute and manage COVID tests at the school. One school, San Francisco Community School, was recently delivered 12 tests for the entire staff and school population of over 344. Until most recently, as a result of widespread sick outs, most schools had little or no access to testing and still have pitiful amounts of PPE. In addition, SFUSD has recently hired a private firm to conduct contact tracing of positive COVID infections in the schools. We are told we will no longer be notified of specific infections in our classes. Once again public tax dollars are given to outside entities that deliver shoddy, cost saving service. All of these jobs could, and should, be District union jobs that add to our collective union leverage and that hire our community as employees. But, as non-union jobs, with a pure for-profit motive, we get substandard service and a destabilized workforce without job security.
As if such destabilization were not enough, it is also true that the very same privatization movement is behind the recall of the school board, and of the anti distance learning parent group, “Decrease the Distance”. Names like, Aspire, New Teacher Project, Enterprise, pro developer “Apartment Association,“ and various hedge funds co mingle across and among these organizations in an anti union, anti public, anti community, ruthless soup. It is time for the privatizers and the prevaricators, the manipulators, the cold- hearted actors to be called out. We need fully funded schools now. There is no reason to wait, and only suffering if we do not act.
Fight the cuts. Fund the schools. Safety now.
1. Melendez, L. (2021, November 4). SFUSD looking to change placement process to help with declining enrollment. ABC7 San Francisco. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://abc7news.com/sfusd-budget-cuts-zone-based-process-sf-covid-19-enrollment/11195569/
2. AbigailJHess. (2020, December 14). 27% of teachers are considering quitting because of Covid, survey finds. CNBC. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/14/27percent-of-teachers-are-considering-quitting-because-of-covid-survey.html
4. Willis, D. J. (2021, November 10). Find out how much California school districts and charter schools received in covid relief: Database. EdSource. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://edsource.org/2021/california-districts-and-charter-schools-get-covid-relief-funding-under-american-rescue-plan-act/650922
5. What congressional covid funding means for K-12 schools. FutureEd. (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.future-ed.org/what-congressional-covid-funding-means-for-k-12-schools/
6. American Rescue Plan School Emergency Relief State plans. Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2022, January 31). Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://oese.ed.gov/offices/american-rescue-plan/american-rescue-plan-elementary-and-secondary-school-emergency-relief/stateplans/
7. Morbidity and mortality weekly report. (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/pdfs/mm6950e1-H.pdf?ACSTrackingID=USCDC_921-DM44376&ACSTrackingLabel=MMWR%20Early%20Release%20-%20Vol.%2069%2C%20December%2011%2C%202020&deliveryName=USCDC_921-DM44376
8. Budget act for 2021–22: Information. Budget Act for 2021–22: Information - Education Budget (CA Dept of Education). (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/fr/eb/yr21ltr0811.asp
9. Fensterwald, J. (2021, July 19). Unprecedented California budget to usher in sweeping education changes. EdSource. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://edsource.org/2021/unprecedented-california-budget-to-usher-in-sweeping-education-changes/657849