On the first day of school, fewer students than projected showed up at Buena Vista Horace Mann, which means principal Jennifer Steiner has to cut $40,000 from her budget in the next week.
That means no field trips that cost money unless students raise the funds, and fewer teachers can seek continuing education and training opportunities. It means that a second-grade teacher may have to buy the lima beans needed to teach students about the plant’s life cycle. Third-grade students may have to read about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly in a textbook rather than witness it in real life.
“I would love it if schools could provide money for this,” Steiner said.
Education budgets are already tight. It’s hard for teachers and administrators to imagine how schools will operate if voters in November fail to pass Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase to fund California’s education system. If the proposition does fail, principals like Steiner will have to make further cuts in the middle of the academic year.
“It may mean actual cuts to teachers,” said the Mission neighborhood principal. “It means a kid with little stability at home loses his classroom teacher.”
Prop. 30 would raise the state’s sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent and increase taxes on wealthy Californians for the next seven years. Most of the revenue would go to fund education.
Without Prop. 30 revenues, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) anticipates having to make $23 million in cuts during the current academic year. Public schools would close a week early, saving the district $10 million; the additional $13 million in cuts would likely come in the form of spending and hiring freezes, said Gentle Blythe, a district spokeswoman.
Next year would be worse. Schools might have to institute 10 furlough days, which means kids would lose two weeks of classroom time.
“It would be a disaster if it doesn’t pass,” said Matthew Hardy, spokesman for United Educators of San Francisco, the teachers’ union. “Flat out, a disaster. It really is a make-or-break moment for education in California and San Francisco.”
For schools in the Mission District, the cuts will feel deeper.
Six schools in the Mission received an average of $1.6 million in federal grant money each year for three years to improve their poor academic performance on standardized tests. That grant money is scheduled to run out at the end of this academic year, which concerns local principals.
At Buena Vista Horace Mann, it could mean slicing the current $4.5 million budget to $2 million, Steiner said.
“That will seriously impact how the school runs right now,” she said.
Class sizes will expand; a common solution is to combine two grades, Steiner said. Computer lab and reading literacy teachers could be cut – these are often among the first to be targeted — meaning that students won’t learn how to type, and those struggling to read won’t receive the special attention they need.
It’s hard to say exactly where the cuts will be if Prop. 30 fails to pass, Steiner said, but the ramifications will be great.
“Some of these kids are working below grade level,” she said. “As it is, 180 [school] days isn’t enough to meet the grade level requirements.”
As a rule of thumb, every $1.79 million that San Francisco schools fall short in funding is equivalent to another furlough day, Hardy said; that’s roughly the cost for one day of school.
Fewer school days means that teachers must condense curriculums.
Across the neighborhood at John O’Connell High School, David Smith, a 12th-grade civics teacher, anticipates having to chose which unit not to teach his students if Prop. 30 fails: supply and demand or international trade.
“I’d have to prioritize what is more important,” he said. “That would definitely hurt not just me, but other teachers as well.”
Some of Smith’s students will go on to college, where they can pick up an economics class, he said. Those who don’t go on may never take an economics class again and may never learn this information.
Not only will students’ education suffer, but parents will have to figure out what to do with their children during the days when they’re not in school, Hardy said.
The lack of funding for education is already noticeable.
For four weeks, Steiner has tried to get someone to fix a broken table in the school’s cafeteria. Manpower at the district level is slim, so there hasn’t been anyone to come pick it up to have it repaired, she said. Students have begun asking if the school is too poor to fix the cafeteria table, which ultimately affects a child’s education, she said.
“If Prop. 30 passes, we don’t even maintain the status quo,” Hardy said. “It’s less than what our schools need to tread water. Without it, it’s a disaster and we sink.”