Critics blast S.F. school board members’ competing budget plan to close massive shortfall

School leaders in San Francisco have just two weeks to agree to a comprehensive plan that addresses a budget deficit of $125 million next year and $146 million the following year — or face increased state oversight and a step toward a potential takeover.

But with time running out, two school board members ditch the budget professionals’ advice, parse their own numbers and push their own plan that pushes all the cuts away from the classroom.

Board members Matt Alexander and Mark Sanchez are proposing cuts only in support services, operations and management, based on a comparison of staffing and spending levels in other large California areas.

It’s a concept backed by the district’s teachers’ union, but questioned by financial experts.

said Michael Fine, CEO of the Financial Crisis Management Assistance Team, which works with state school districts on financial stability. “Individual board members, unless they have a lot of experience in the area in budgeting, frankly don’t know what to do.”

The proposal reflects a larger pattern of San Francisco school board members pursuing ideals — renaming schools, hiding a controversial mural and changing Lowell High’s admissions process — while ignoring the advice of experts and their staff and sometimes not following the law.

As a result, the board faced legal losses, a growing budget deficit, and a revised honors contract that required the seven members to “refrain from performing the functions of management.”

“It’s very clearly a bad analysis, and you have to wonder what they are trying to do here,” said Meredith Willa Dodson, executive director of the Parents Alliance in San Francisco. “This is quite on par with many school board members – ignoring expert staff recommendations, driving us further into the financial crisis, and acting on their own often leads to lawsuits.”

State education officials appointed a financial expert in early November to advise the district after it failed to address the current budget shortfall, requiring the district to submit a budget plan by December 15.

Superintendent Vincent Matthews has proposed a plan that would cut school site budgets next year by $50 million, down 13% from this year, with an estimated 360 of the 3,431 jobs lost at school sites — a cut that acknowledges the continuing decline in enrollment. The cuts will also include $40 million from indirect central office operations and management.

Both plans anticipate $35 million in new government grants and this year’s savings to fully cover the $125 million shortfall, which could include some money from Proposition G parcel tax, which has been unsuccessfully challenged in court.

Alexander and Sanchez came up with their own plan after reviewing data from other large areas across the state showing that Unified San Francisco spends less of the budget directly on schools and more on indirect support and operations/administration.

“We’ve set up a huge central office in a very big way, and that’s about renewal in the face of a massive deficit,” Alexander said, adding that the district has 24 top-level management positions, an increase of nine in the past decade. It is not clear whether all of these new positions are or reflect the consolidation or reorganization of job titles.

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