No more bogus school budgets

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OPINION Spring means budget season at the San Francisco Unified School District.

Under the state Education Code, the SFUSD is required to present its proposed budget to the public. But each year the published budget leaves out the actual amounts of money that the district spent on each item in the previous year. It doesn't even include the past year's budgeted amount.

The public only receives a wish list of the district's proposed requested amounts for each budget item.

Recently, the SFUSD negotiated a new contract with its largest union, United Educators of San Francisco. The contract gives an 8.5 percent raise to the district's hardworking teachers, paraprofessionals, and nurses. In the fall the mayor and his staff mediated a new contract with a 4 percent raise for the SFUSD's second-largest union, SEIU Local 790. United Administrators of San Francisco also negotiated a new contract with the SFUSD in the early spring.

At the same time, both federal and state funding for education has decreased. The SFUSD's enrollment has also declined over the last 30 years. So the San Francisco Board of Education closed four schools and two child care centers in 2005. Three more schools are scheduled to close in June, while another two elementary schools are scheduled to be "merged" with two other schools.

Last year it was revealed that a reserve fund for a new school of the arts had been used to meet the district's budget shortfalls. That reserve fund is now being repaid by funds that the SFUSD gets from developer fees.

The district is projecting a deficit of $5.8 million for the next fiscal year and an even greater deficit in 2007 and 2008. The board will have to make difficult choices in order to balance the next year's budget in these challenging times. It also must pass a budget that is accepted by its stakeholders parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, janitors, clerks, other key staff, and the community.

But that can only happen if the district brings parents and other stakeholders meaningfully into the budget process. People can only participate if they have useful information like how much the district has spent on budget items in the past as well as how much the district wants to spend on those items in the next fiscal year.

Other public school districts, like Fresno's, have developed budgets that are easy to follow. The budged of the city and county of San Francisco allows its stakeholders to participate in the budget process by showing each item's "actual money spent" and the previous year's budget amount.

A transparent budget that everyone understands is the only way we as a community can hold the district accountable and build more public trust and support in our schools. SFBG

Kim Knox is an education activist who is running for San Francisco School Board in November 2006.

The SFUSD will be having a community budget workshop at Everett Middle School May 13.