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Teachers and parents at Moscone Elementary School are rallying in opposition to the school’s budget, which is $47,000 less this year than last because fewer students are enrolled.

Teachers handed out fliers to parents dropping their children off at school on Monday morning, and collected more than 150 signatures on a petition to present to the Board of Education at next week’s meeting.

One of the reasons for the revised budget is that Moscone has only 330 students enrolled this year — 12 fewer than last year. The district funds schools on a per-pupil basis, said Jill Wynns, a school board commissioner.

In February, schools draft their budgets based on enrollment estimates, and the school board approves them. But if a school plans to enroll 300 students and ends up with 290, it will receive less money, Wynns said.

“It’s a recalculation; it’s not a cut, because originally the budget was just an estimate….
They think they have the money they estimated for, but then they get less and it’s a problem, and we understand that, but remember, the district only gets money for the amount of kids we have. We are not giving them money for kids they don’t have.”

In response to the new budget numbers, school administrators are looking for places to make cuts, and teachers are unhappy with the choices.

The school has two options: cut a fourth- or fifth-grade teaching position, which would raise class sizes from 22 to 35, or eliminate the early intervention program, a reading program that has become a staple of Moscone’s success in the Mission District.

“$47,000 is not that big of a number when you look at the school’s entire budget, which is roughly $1.5 million,” said Valerie Hoshino, the school’s principal. “It’s not a big number, but its impact is.”

For 15 years, Moscone has used its reading program to “catch students before they fall,” Hoshino said.

The program analyzes first-graders’ reading abilities and focuses on children who are struggling to keep up, said Lita Blanc, a bilingual literacy teacher at Moscone. Specially trained teachers like Blanc then take children out of class and work with them one on one until their reading and writing skills are at acceptable levels.

“First grade is key because it is when students first learn how to read, and by second grade, it’s too late,” Hoshino said.

Reyna Vite, mother to a Moscone graduate and a current third-grader, said the reading program helped her daughter after she transferred her to Moscone in the second grade.

“We usually speak Spanish, and her grades were really low,” Vite said. “When we received the scores from STAR, they were really low.” After a year at Moscone and working with the reading program, Vite said her daughter’s grades changed. “She advanced and it was big, you know, my husband and I were surprised.”

Vite, who has volunteered in the classrooms for two years, said she wants Superintendent Carlos Garcia to see Moscone in action.

“If the school is doing great, keep it that way, even if we don’t receive more money, just don’t take it away so that we can keep going and keep doing the same thing we’re doing now,” she said.

“It’s not right,” Blanc said. “We really think it [the reading program] is one of the reasons why our kids, no matter what their background, no matter what language they speak at home, are able to perform at school and go on to be successful in middle school.”

Whether Moscone cuts a teaching position or eliminates the reading program, Blanc says the school will struggle.

“Imagine if you were a parent and your child was in a classroom with 35 kids…what kind of education do you think they’re going to get?” she asked.

Blanc said even teaching 25 students in a class is a challenge, and if the number increases by 10, she worries that students will not get the feedback they need.

“Either way, it’s a blow. It’s a loss to the children of the school.”

After considering teachers union requirements and state and district laws, school administrators and school district officials decided that cutting a teaching position or the reading program were the only options they had.

Wynns said that as a moral question, schools should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, more, but the school district has to have it to give it.

“I and the rest of the members of the board will continue to do what we can to get more money, but under the current circumstances and the rules of this budget process, they’re not entitled to that money,” she said.

Moscone is not asking for extra resources, only what is needed to maintain its current program, Blanc said in an e-mail statement.

“Success should be supported, and we shouldn’t be pitted against other schools in the Mission. We want full funding for everybody and Moscone parents, students and teachers are not going to stop until we get it.”

Parents and teachers will hold a press conference  at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Moscone.

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Patty Espinosa, from the border town of Mission, Texas, feels at home with the Mission's Latino culture, humming along to the mariachi songs playing during her lunch break. Hearing workers at a taqueria shouting "gritos" convinced her the Mission is unlike any other neighborhood in San Francisco.

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