A routine meeting of San Francisco Unified School District’s Augmented Budget and Business Services Committee grew tense Monday evening, as board members and district staff revisited the logic of cutting funding for a school violence prevention program.

The committee advises the Board of Education and has no final authority. Nevertheless, its members were trying to reconcile the need for timely programs in a year that the school district has struggled to fund its basic operations.

Since June, two San Francisco public school students and one recent graduate have been killed, part of a spike in homicides that jumped to 78 so far this year, compared to 81 in the first eight and a half months of 2007.  Seventeen of the murders took place in the Mission District, and last week’s resumed violence inspired a silent peace march there.

San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia proposed reducing funding for the violence prevention program by more than 40 percent—to $881,250 from $1.5 million last year—in anticipation of city- and state-wide budget cuts. The Board of Education agreed to the superintendent’s proposal and the Board of Supervisors gave final approval this summer.

“I’m disappointed in the city’s response,” said Kim-Shree Maufas, vice president of the Board of Education and a committee member. A large deficit in the city budget this year forced cutbacks in the Public Education Enrichment Fund, the pool of money that finances the violence prevention program.

Maufas’s complaints, echoed by fellow committee member and school board commissioner Jane Kim, punctuated a meeting otherwise dominated by spreadsheets, financial terminology, and collegial banter.

As Brian Fox, the new coordinator for the Public Education Enrichment Fund, finished his update, committee members puzzled through a stack of charts, trying to make sense of the numbers.

“How do I read this,” asked Kim half-jokingly, holding a complex, multi-colored diagram up to the light, as if to understand it a little better.

The Public Education Enrichment Fund, created by the voter-approved Proposition H in 2004, funnels money to three areas: one-third to sports, library, arts, and music programs; one-third to ensuring all four-year-olds can attend preschool; and one-third for other instructional purposes.

Each year the fund increases, and this year it was supposed to be $45 million. The actual allotment for 2008–09 will probably be several million less, said Trish Bascom, associate superintendent for student support services, in an interview after the committee meeting.

The city is pushing to have a greater portion of its allotment for other instructional purposes, the “third third,” come from in-kind services—where city employees offer their time to the school district—rather than dollars and cents, said Bascom. These services would replace some of the $45 million.

Re-entry programs for students who have dropped out of school, as well as many translation services, were also cut in anticipation of the shortfall.

Should the cuts to the fund be less severe than estimated and basic operating expenses are covered, the school district and Board of Education can reconsider their earlier decisions.

“If we got it,” said Bascom of funding for the violence prevention program, “we could reinstate it this year.”

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Noah Buhayar is print and multimedia student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He reports primarily on business topics. His work has appeared in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS’s business site and MarketWatch. Before coming to the Bay Area, he taught a semester of high school Spanish in Hawaii, spent a year in southern Chile on a Fulbright grant, and interned with the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s online division.

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