How budget cuts and PTA fundraising undermined equity in San Francisco public schools

A child buys tickets at the Halloween-Día de los Muertos fundraiser for Junipero Serra Elementary in Bernal Heights. The event netted $3,000 for the PTA. Credit: Tearsa Joy Hammock / San Francisco Public Press

A child buys tickets at the Halloween-Día de los Muertos fundraiser for Junipero Serra Elementary in Bernal Heights. The event netted $3,000 for the PTA. Credit: Tearsa Joy Hammock, San Francisco Public Press

Evelyn Cheung is the principal of Junipero Serra Elementary School in Bernal Heights. Matthew Reedy is the principal of Grattan Elementary in the Haight. Both San Francisco public schools faced five straight years of districtwide budget cuts — which hit hardest in 2010 with a $113 million shortfall and last school year came to a more manageable $13 million.

But the belt tightening did not hurt the two schools equally. Cheung was forced to lay off staff and take other drastic steps, like freezing supply purchases for a year. By contrast, Reedy hired new staff and expanded his school’s academic programs, helping raise standardized test scores.

Why? The difference lay in the ability of their parent-teacher associations to raise money. The Grattan PTA has budgeted hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, amounting to almost $1,000 per pupil. At Junipero Serra, where most students come from poor and immigrant families, the PTA raises approximately $25 per pupil.

“Every principal knows which schools have it and which schools don’t,” Cheung said. “We know who are the haves and who are the have-nots. The system just isn’t equitable.”

In an era of shrinking public investment in schools, parents have struggled to hold the line one school at a time. Since the pre-recession year 2007, elementary school PTAs in San Francisco collectively managed to more than quadruple their spending on schools.

With this money, some schools have been able to pay teachers and staff, buy computers and school supplies, and underwrite class outings and enrichment activities. These expenses, previously covered by the taxpayers, are increasingly the responsibility of parents.

But school district finance data, PTA tax records and demographic profiles reveal an unintended byproduct of parents’ heroic efforts: The growing reliance on private dollars has widened inequities between the impoverished majority and the small number of schools where affluent parents cluster.

Unlike some California school districts, which centralize and redistribute funds raised by parents, San Francisco so far has permitted all money raised at a school to stay there. This gives some schools an enormous advantage. School district data show that in 2011 (the most recent year tax records were available), parents of children at just 10 elementary schools raised $2.77 million — more money than those at the other 61 combined.

By bringing in as much as $1,500 per student, the top fundraising schools appear to have been largely insulated from the effects of budgets cuts. Meanwhile, parents at high-poverty schools such as Junipero Serra are seeing shrinking resources for their children. This means laid-off staff, dilapidated libraries, outdated computers and a dearth of essential supplies like pencils and paper.

Rachel Norton, president of the San Francisco Board of Education, said she and her colleagues were aware of significant disparities in the fundraising capacities of PTAs in the district. But administrators do not track donations, nor do they attempt to interfere with school fundraising.

“I’d never ding parents for raising money to provide more services and extras for their schools, especially in a state like California that has chronically underfunded schools,” Norton said. “The more economically diverse students the schools attract, the better off the schools will be.”

But fewer and fewer schools in San Francisco are attracting economically diverse students. The number of children from poor families is rising across the district, and there are more schools with high concentrations of poverty than there were 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the number of mixed-income schools is shrinking.

Critics of rising income inequality say school districts across the country, in a rush to save public schools with private dollars, created a system in which education is improving for the affluent and declining for the poor.

“Parent fundraising has become more important as state and local funds have dwindled,” said Robert Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor and now a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who advocates for policies to close the gap between rich and poor.

“If we take the ideal of equal opportunity seriously,” Reich said, “we’ve got to commit ourselves to creating a system of public education in which kids from poor and working-class families have a genuinely equal opportunity to succeed. And we’re falling far short.”

In an effort to address unequal parent fundraising head-on, some Bay Area school districts have pioneered novel solutions that might be instructive to San Francisco. One is aggregating private dollars, and directing them to the schools that need the most help. Other California districts prohibit PTAs from paying for teacher salaries or training, a common practice that can significantly widen inequities among schools.

San Francisco PTA fundraising increased since 2002 but most of it paid for programs at just a handful of schools. Graphic by Tom Guffey / San Francisco Public Press

San Francisco PTA fundraising increased since 2002, but most of it paid for programs at just a handful of schools. (Click to enlarge) Graphic by Tom Guffey, San Francisco Public Press

But with an expected influx of state money this year, San Francisco will have new policy options to address the growing inequities in the district. The city’s schools stand to bring in as much as $21.7 million more as soon as September, through Gov. Jerry Brown’s newly enacted Local Control Funding Formula, which provides extra funds to districts with many disadvantaged students. If student populations remain stable, this new money could grow to $184.6 million annually in eight years.

With a current school district budget of $667 million, the new funds would represent an increase of 27 percent.

As San Francisco’s Board of Education prepares to hold public meetings this spring on how to spend the extra funds, the fate of increasingly unequal public schools could be in the hands of parents themselves. That may mean endorsing reforms to ensure more equitable local funding, or agreeing to share fundraising proceeds among schools.

Some schools dodged cuts

Matthew Reedy started working as a teacher at Grattan Elementary in the Haight in 2002. That was the year the district’s Weighted Student Formula took effect. The policy, devised as a way to help disadvantaged children, provides schools with a base rate of funding for each student, currently $2,896, and adds dollars based on need, such as the number of children receiving special education services, free and reduced-price lunches and lessons in English as a second language. So per-capita funding for schools is highly variable but generally biased toward schools with disadvantaged students.

The goal is not strict equality, but rather equity, meaning preferential funding for schools that need it most. San Francisco schools with many poor and immigrant students have bigger budgets on a per-pupil basis than do affluent schools, whose students are less expensive to educate.

When the formula went into effect in 2002, Reedy said, affluent schools such as Grattan lost funding, and parents felt compelled to make up the difference.

That year, elementary school PTAs in San Francisco brought in a total of just $592,000. But through 2011, their combined budgets had ballooned to $5.32 million, an increase of about 800 percent.

(The Public Press examined data from elementary schools only based on the tax records of legally recognized PTAs.)

As parent fundraising increased, so did the gap between the richest and poorest schools.

In 2010, Reedy became Grattan’s principal. Today, only 21 percent of 359 students there qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. That is one-third the district average, making it one of the wealthiest schools in a district whose students overall have gotten poorer. Not surprisingly, the Grattan PTA is one of the most successful fundraisers in the district.

In the 2012–2013 school year, the PTA at Grattan had a budget of $353,000, about $983 per pupil, on top of the base $2,896 the school receives from the district for each student. The parents rely on an array of labor-intensive fundraising methods: “Count Me In!” parties with ticket prices up to $75, wine raffles and auctions, foundation grants, “Dine Out for Grattan” nights at participating restaurants, and a sophisticated e-newsletter and website.

(See Flickr for a photo essay on fundraising for public education by Tearsa Joy Hammock and Luke Thomas)

Reedy said Grattan has been spared the sting of budget cuts, thanks entirely to these parent fundraising efforts. “We’ve been able to take PTA money and donate it to our general fund to prevent layoffs,” he said.

Not only did the PTA protect jobs, it expanded Grattan’s academic programs by hiring reading specialists and a technology teacher, and adding a bilingual clerk and a parent liaison to the staff. The PTA also funds an extra teacher, helping Grattan reduce its average class size. In all, this school year the Grattan PTA is paying all or part of the salaries of six staff, totaling nearly $224,000. PTA money also supported the library, a garden that doubles as a science lab and a computer lab that is often cited as one of Grattan’s key strengths, among other programs.

Like many principals, Reedy sets spending priorities in consultation with a school site council, which includes parents, teachers and neighbors. Their decision to invest PTA funds in academics has paid off. From 2008 to 2013, Grattan improved standardized test scores from 787 to 923 points on a scale of 1,000, making it one of the district’s academically best-performing elementary schools.

While the sums raised by Grattan’s PTA may seem tiny compared with a district budget of $667 million, Grattan’s example reveals how small — but concentrated — amounts of private money can keep an entire school afloat. For schools with the means, parent fundraising is a solution to budget cuts.

But the Public Press analysis finds that the majority of San Francisco schools are unable to raise money at the same level. Indeed, reliance on parent fundraising appears to undermine the equitability goal of the district’s own funding methods.

How cuts create inequity

Junipero Serra Elementary is situated between Holly Courts, a low-income housing project, and the hilltop Holly Park in Bernal Heights. Visitors hear more Spanish than English in the school’s hallways — 90 percent of the 269 students are immigrants or the children of immigrants, mainly from Latin America.

Karen Curtiss takes a donation at the annual Halloween-Día de los Muertos celebration at Junipero Serra Elementary School. An architect and homeowner in Bernal Heights, she has been active with the parent-teacher association since her son Argus started at the school three years ago. Credit: Tearsa Joy Hammock / San Francisco Public Press. One time use only.

Karen Curtiss takes a donation at the annual Halloween-Día de los Muertos celebration at Junipero Serra Elementary School. Credit: Tearsa Joy Hammock, San Francisco Public Press

As principal, Evelyn Cheung has had to make hard choices in the past five years, in consultation with teachers and parents. One year they stopped buying supplies. The budget for the library fell to $500. Cheung was forced to lay off classroom aides, the nurse, the social worker and all “consultancies” — mainly arts teachers. The layoffs hurt morale more than other cuts, Cheung said, “because it’s people.”

“They have emotional ties, and there are bad feelings when someone is laid off,” she said.

Why can’t Junipero Serra fundraise its way around budget cuts? In part, because the parents have less to give, at least as measured by free or reduced-price lunches. At Junipero Serra, 86 percent of students qualify, more than four times as many as at Grattan.

To qualify for reduced-price lunch in California, a family of four must make less than $42,643 a year. To qualify for free lunch, less than $29,965. Researchers use these markers as proxies to measure poverty.

The desperate situation faced by most of Junipero Serra’s families is, in fact, shared by 63 percent of families throughout San Francisco’s public school system. This represents a 10 percent increase since the start of the recession, which coincided with the start of the budget cuts.

This poverty has also become more concentrated. Data from the district show that the number of schools in which more than three-quarters of students are eligible for subsidized lunch has more than tripled in the past decade. Schools in which fewer than one-quarter qualify increased slightly. Meanwhile, the middle class is disappearing: The portion of schools in between those extremes of poverty and wealth fell, from 66 percent to 52 percent.

While Cheung lauded the ideals behind the weighted student formula, and similar federal programs such as Title I, she said current funding levels were not enough for schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students.

“Many of my parents don’t have the resources that many middle-class families have,” Cheung said. “We have to provide a computer lab and technology training for the kids because they don’t have computers at home. And they will go to middle school very far behind if we don’t provide that support.”

(See photo essay, “Two PTA Presidents, Two Realities.”)

No easy solutions

This is how budget cuts perpetuate inequity: Affluent families are able to make up for lost funding by donating both time and money, whereas schools with poor families struggle to fill the gap. School district data show that as the number of students getting free and reduced-price lunch rises, PTA budgets fall. At the 44 elementary schools where a majority of the students live in poverty, fundraising is insufficient to offset budget cuts. Those cuts add stress to communities already struggling with low wages, financial instability and discrimination.

Can the system be improved, or are we doomed to perpetuate the cycle of inequality? This problem is not unique to San Francisco. As anti-tax sentiment in recent years has reduced school funding nationwide, parents are increasingly fundraising to keep their own kids’ schools afloat.

In response, some California districts created centralized PTA foundations to redistribute funds to schools based on need (see story on the solution used in the East Bay city of Albany). Others prohibited PTAs from raising funds for personnel or professional development.

The Santa Monica-Malibu school district embraced both solutions in 2011, under Superintendent Sandra Lyon. Today the district’s education foundation is the only way parents can donate money to support teachers and staff.

The key worry about such systems is that they will reduce the incentive for parents to support public schools beyond what they already pay in taxes. Lyon said her district struggled with the transition: “There are still some who believe parent money should stay at their children’s schools, and they are strongly against the change.”

The reform caused some affluent Malibu residents to try to break off from more working-class Santa Monica to create a separate school district. At least one Malibu school refused to participate in revenue sharing.

Overall, the district’s PTAs are struggling to raise as much as in previous years, Lyon said. Still, she sees progress. The foundation launched a $4 million campaign last spring, and by late fall 2013 it had raised $2.4 million.

“Some of our wealthiest Santa Monica schools have the greatest participation,” Lyon said. “Indeed, across Santa Monica schools, some of the loudest opponents have become the biggest champions and are leading the charges at their schools.”

Lyon has seen a culture change in a district heavily divided by social class. “Schools are collaborating in ways they had not done before,” she said. “The inequity in schools had bothered many for years, and so there has been support for the notion that we are working to create a better education for all students.”

The Santa Monica-Malibu district is one-fifth the size of San Francisco Unified. Every education leader interviewed dismissed the idea that such a system would work in San Francisco, largely because of the district’s size and diversity. Most defended the status quo.

Many educators fear losing support from affluent parents, who have the option to quit the public schools altogether and enroll their children in private schools — or flee to suburban schools. Harvey Milk Elementary principal Tracy Peoples said fundraising can create that kind of parental engagement.

“For schools like ours that do not qualify for additional funding based on test scores or student demographics, we depend on the parent community to step in to help raise additional funds for our students,” Peoples said.

Because the San Francisco Unified School District does not keep track of donations to PTAs, parents and educators have not had an accurate picture of how they factor into inequities among individual schools.

But as California moves this year to pour millions of dollars into diverse, high-poverty districts like San Francisco, parents and educators must ask themselves hard questions about which students were hurt most by five years of budgets cuts — and who was rescued by PTA fundraising.

Volunteers gathered on a Saturday in November at Grattan Elementary for the first campuswide greening work day. They unloaded two tons of sand, painted, hauled, cleaned up and gardened. Credit: Luke Thomas / San Francisco Public Press. One time use only.

Volunteers gathered on a Saturday in November at Grattan Elementary for the first campuswide greening work day. They unloaded two tons of sand, painted, cleaned up and gardened. Credit: Luke Thomas, San Francisco Public Press

Some parents have led a grassroots movement to counteract the inequities. Alvarado parent Todd David worked with peers in 2008 to launch EdMatch, a Web-based volunteer effort to enlist corporations and philanthropists to match funds raised for San Francisco public schools. The money was distributed to the most impoverished.

“EdMatch is a good system,” board president Rachel Norton said, “because it encourages people to voluntarily opt in, without penalizing parents who are working really hard.” But EdMatch, while noble in intent, has struggled more than five years to increase participation, raising only $100,000 last year — well short of its $6 million goal.

From charity to advocacy

The most effective solutions may be political, not charitable.

Reich counsels parents troubled by growing public-school inequities to turn their energies from giving to advocating for reform. He said they should work to raise tax rates for the wealthy, decouple school budgets from property taxes and target state and local resources to the poorest schools.

In a Sept. 4 op-ed for The New York Times, Stanford political science professor Rob Reich (no relation to the coincidentally named Robert Reich) went a step further, proposing that the federal government create a special charitable status for school-based PTAs, so that those who give to poor schools get double deductions and those who give to affluent schools get none.

Norton said the changes in state funding have sparked other possible reform ideas specific to San Francisco.

“We desperately need to reweight the student formula,” she said. This may be the most decisive battle to be waged in the next year on behalf of poor and immigrant schools such as Junipero Serra.

“A well-educated populace is the key to a healthy democracy,” said David, the Alvarado parent, who turned to full-time education activism after a successful Wall Street career. “Public education is an investment, not an expenditure. My grandparents were immigrants. They came to the United States, they got a public education, they lived the American dream. Education is the one way we know that can help each person rise, generation after generation. If you care about the future of America, education for all kids is in all our interests.”

Jeremy Adam Smith is a fellow with the Institute for Justice and Journalism. He edits the website of U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is author or coeditor of four books, including “The Daddy Shift,” “Rad Dad” and “The Compassionate Instinct.” His son briefly attended both Junipero Serra and Grattan.

Filed under: Curriculum, Parent Involvement, Reforms, School Finance, State Education Policy


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25 Responses to “How budget cuts and PTA fundraising undermined equity in San Francisco public schools”

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  1. Manuel on Apr 3, 2014 at 4:14 pm04/3/2014 4:14 pm

    • 000

    The article is mainly about SFUSD, but it mentions others, such as Santa Monica-Malibu USD. Curiously, it says nothing about LAUSD which does have a small group of schools that do significant fundraising ($500 is typical, but the most is around $1,500/kid). It is small because these schools (around 30 or so) exist in wealthy ghettos in a district where 614 schools have 50% or more of its students qualify for Title I, Part A.

    The one thing that the article does not touch upon is on the schools that are neither incredibly rich nor incredibly wealthy. What about them?

    The problem that this raises is that these schools have educated middle class parents who believe that schools should provide a base of services that California is no longer willing to fund. It is these parents who pester the Board and other other public officials about being transparent with schools budgets. It is these parents that are accused of waging class warfare because they “want to take away money from poor kids,” as Superintendent Deasy accused them of at a Board meeting.

    These parents used to be the targets of “going charter.” And, yes, 20 or so schools did that when Title I money was taken away from their less-than-50%-poor kids. But now LCFF has changed the landscape and it is no longer economically feasible to “convert” a local school. LCFF monies should be able to foot the bill for the librarian, nurse, counselor, psychologist, etc..

    But Superintendent Deasy is still running LAUSD as he has done in the past. Here’s how stakeholder participation in funding decisions is put across to its employees: “Just to be clear: the decision about how to use these funds does not require a vote of existing councils and/or committees, but there is an expectation that input has been sought.” I would tell you where the document is, but I don’t want them to stop being so candid.

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…


    • Don on Apr 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm04/3/2014 6:52 pm

      • 000

      Manuel, please explain. First you say, “parents who believe that schools should provide a base of services that California is no longer willing to fund.” The you say, “LCFF monies should be able to foot the bill for the librarian, nurse, counselor, psychologist, etc.”

      Don’t these two statement contradict each other?

      • Dawn Urbanek on Apr 5, 2014 at 7:19 am04/5/2014 7:19 am

        • 000

        The NEW Local Control Funding Formula Base grant needs to be increased from $6,500 to an amount that will adequately fund a BASIC education for all students no matter how rich or how poor. That would need to be a minimum of $9,500. Then if Jerry Brown would like to provide more money to schools with higher percentage of poor and english language learners he can do so. However it is unconstitutional to deny children in affluent schools districts with sufficient funds to have even a basic education.

        • navigio on Apr 5, 2014 at 8:11 am04/5/2014 8:11 am

          • 000

          Unfortunately the guarantee is not to a quality education, rather merely to whatever we get for the money were willing to spend.

          • Don on Apr 5, 2014 at 9:19 am04/5/2014 9:19 am

            • 000

            Navigio, that is not her point as I understand it. She is saying that the base ought to be at a level that adequately funds the basic educational requirements for ALL students in order for it to meet the constitutional requirements of “free and equal” and that extra funds allocated to supplemental and concentration grants ought to be provided only after meeting those requirements. That would employ the same logic as used for the revenue limit which was unrestricted general fund money versus restricted comped type funding. The system of unrestricted and restricted has been loosened up to the degree that even the base grant can now be used to fund compensatory education. OTOH, under the old system one-third of all the approx. $40B in ed funding was categorical and now only 16% is allocated to the supplemental and concentration grants.

            Another argument could be made that it costs more to provide an equal education to some students. However, this argument is never been adequately proven. We have years of data showing that compensatory education results (output) has little correlation to funding (input). Which is another way of saying that we have no clear correlation between achievement and funding despite the billions spent on remediation. Most of this money is spent on a notion that it is “doing the right thing”, even if it is unconstitutional and there is very little accountability for results, only a system of accountability to ensure spending.

            SFUSD is an example. Why should children in your average neighborhood school been shortchanged on their funding and education because the Superintendent wants to funnel resources into a certain select group of underperforming schools? It is not only unconstitutional from the perspective of Dawn as that same kind of funding scheme applies statewide in LCFF, but it hasn’t shown significant results over decades. And most low-performing students see no benefit outside these zones. PTA inequities are meaningless in context.

            • Manuel on Apr 7, 2014 at 9:46 am04/7/2014 9:46 am

              • 000

              Don, that’s an interesting comment about the non-correlation between funding and outcomes.

              I do have one question: why then are high-achieving private schools so expensive?

              Also, have you ever considered that “outcomes” under a standardized testing system demand that there always be a population below the average by definition?

      • Manuel on Apr 7, 2014 at 9:39 am04/7/2014 9:39 am

        • 000

        Don, no, they don’t.

  2. slammy on Apr 3, 2014 at 9:43 am04/3/2014 9:43 am

    • 000

    It is misleading to suggest that PTA contributions are a main cause of educational inequity. Assume that wealthy PTA’s can raise $1,000 per student (which most cannot), that is dwarfed by disparity between states’ funding (CA approx. $9,000 vs. NY approx. $19,000 per student). Scapegoating PTA’s will not deliver adequate funding.

    PTA’s are easy targets, but community involvement and donations are not the reason SFUSD is failing many families. Focusing on PTA money distracts from finding answers to the big questions. Why is there such wide variation in quality between schools in SFUSD? How can each school best meet the needs of all of it’s students?

  3. Paul Muench on Apr 2, 2014 at 12:48 pm04/2/2014 12:48 pm

    • 000

    I listened to the discussion of this work on KQED’s Forum. And I think Robert Reich hit the nail on the head during that show. The PTA issue is divisive and should not be our focus. Instead we should focus on working together to expand on LCFF. Don is right, the Money we are talking about here is small potatoes once it would be spread across all schools.


    • el on Apr 2, 2014 at 3:08 pm04/2/2014 3:08 pm

      • 000

      I’m not sure I see restricting PTA fundraising as a response, but I think it does show that the base grant is probably not enough at any school, and that when you’re trying to make (grossly simplistic) $/test score comparisons, that often this money is not accounted in the totals. Knowing about these differences is key as part of understanding school finance.

  4. Dawn Urbanek on Apr 2, 2014 at 12:05 pm04/2/2014 12:05 pm

    • 000

    PTA’s are Charted as Advocacy Organizations- not fundraising organizations. They should loose their not-for-profit status because they are spending the bulk of their time fundraising and not enough time advocating. School Districts and PTA’s need to be advocating for an increase in the Base Grant of Jerry Brown’s New Local Control Funding Formula from $6,500 to $9,500. Sacramento uses students to get tax increases but then uses the increased revenue for everything but student services. I have just written a very detailed letter to Jerry Brown regarding the Capistrano Unified School District’s current financial status as to why the base grant is insufficient and is unconstitutional because it distributes money based on the socioeconomic status of students. The California Constitution requires the State to provide a FREE and EQUAL education to all students no matter how rich or how poor and irrespective of race or ethnicity.

    My letter can be read at:


    • navigio on Apr 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm04/2/2014 4:40 pm

      • 000

      I have noticed some ptas making a point to de-emphasize fundraising. of course that does not go over well with parents and the attempt seems mostly to have failed where i’ve seen it.

      btw, awesome level of descriptive detail in your letter!

    • Don on Apr 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm04/3/2014 2:35 pm

      • 000

      Dawn, I feel so much sadness for the students of California and your district mixed with admiration for the letter you wrote so painstakingly to the governor. We sure could use more parents like you to advocate for our children. Instead what we get are union voices whose only interest is in preserving the outmoded amenity that is tenure and LIFO and the education of six million children is an afterthought, as if their success is predicated on the benefits and compensation negotiated through collective bargaining. What we get are people who want to further limit the voices of you and me who speak out against these vested and controlling interests at the expense of our children. What we get are years and years of lost opportunity due to the intransigence of the forces that have dictated the terms of the education of our children for too long. What we get is a good reason to simply pay the price to exit the corrupted public education system for private school or sane states that put kids first.

  5. Don on Apr 2, 2014 at 11:58 am04/2/2014 11:58 am

    • 000

    While some schools do raise much more private money, the schools that don’t have far more public spending per pupil. Smith seems unwilling to report on the complete funding scenario – only one side of the story.

    From SFUSD school budget of 2012 – excluding special ed funding, Serra gets $1,730,400 for 282 students while Grattan gets $1,692, 728, for 390 students. Per pupil JS gets $6,136 and Grattan gets 4,340. The amount of private money at Grattan only reduces the extra Serra gets by half. Mission High School (an SZ school) receives $9,167 per student from the district while Lincoln gets $5,611. Lincoln makes up a fraction of the difference. Grattan makes up a much larger portion than most PTAs. Do underperforming schools need more? Of Course, but that is no reason to mischaracterized the total funding picture in order to rile up sentiment against PTAs that are only doing what they created to do.

    While the easily fooled public may believe that private donations are an inequity, SFUSD insiders are well aware that the so-called “rich” schools get the butt end of the budget deal and the comment by Principal Cheung is not shared by many of her colleagues.

    Low performing schools generally have much lower class sizes, far fewer student services, academic assistance and staff-to-student ratios. I do not begrudge the fact that these smaller class sizes are needed, but I do take issue with those who incessantly spread the notion that PTAs should allocate funding on a district rather than school basis. Right now, funding is inequitable and its inequitable in favor of so-called “underserved” schools.

    SFUSD has many schools in two “Superintendent Zones”. These schools have received far more funding since 2010 when they started. But the majority of underperforming students do not attend these schools. PTA funding helps to fill the gap created by the policies of SFUSD. It’s a district focused on just a few schools and the majority of the underperformers are ignored.


    • Don on Apr 2, 2014 at 3:36 pm04/2/2014 3:36 pm

      • 000

      Sorry… correction: Low performing schools generally have much lower class sizes, far MORE student services, MORE academic assistance and LOWER staff-to-student ratios.

    • Paul on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:10 pm04/2/2014 10:10 pm

      • 000

      Can we please look beyond one school district which, at that, has four programs essentially unique in the state: the Superintendent’s Zone, the Balanced Scorecard, and access to the city/county general fund via the Public Education Enrichment Fund and the Rainy Day Reserve?

      Very few other school districts with a mix of high- and low-performing schools have admitted, privately or publicly, that there is an intra-district, inter-school achievement gap, and fewer still have taken concrete steps to remedy it. The Balanced Scorecard represents SFUSD’s admission that there is a gap between many of its schools, and the Superintendent’s Zone represents a serious commitment to closing that gap. How many other California school districts have gone so far?

      Even if we assume that supplemental government funding does flow and will flow to the schools whose students need it most (an assumption that is far from certain, given the testimony on LCF implementation), can we please consider equity on a fundamental level?

      Now that fundraising proceeds are routinely being used to hire certificated teachers, wouldn’t it be fair to distribute any fundraising proceeds above an incidental level (i.e., not from bake sales, car washes, etc.) on an equal basis?

      • Don on Apr 3, 2014 at 6:04 am04/3/2014 6:04 am

        • 000

        Paul, the article was about SFUSD, hence my comments on SFUSD. I only want to clarify one point about the Superintendent Zones. There are only a few thousand students in it (I can’t remember the exact figure off hand), but like many districts, about half our students are underperforming. That means most of those students are not in a Superintendent Zone school and they get none of the extras provided to SZ schools. This doesn’t appear to me as a commitment to the students of SFUSD as much as it is about achieving a turnaround for a small subset. That is to say, SFUSD is using its funding in a manner inconsistent with its Weighted Student Formula and choosing funding winners and losers above and beyond former categorical requirements. It even wants to have a separate union LIFO agreement for the SZ. And as I mentioned the achievement results are lukewarm. I have done my own analysis on this and discovered the achievement of SZ/SIG schools waere generally disappointing, despite SFUSD’s insistence to the contrary.

        How this relates to the PTA issue is tangential but important. Higher performing schools and their fundraising organizations really had to up their game, hence the large increases which are tougher to come by in a recession, in order to keep services even at a bare minimum due to the favoritism. At the same time, lower performing schools would be hit harder by layoffs due to LIFO. The BOE wanted to retain many teachers in these zones, creating a special policy for the SZ and excluding other schools many of which are equally low performing. Many SZ teachers had specialized training in inner city schools from the SIG grant and losing them would have clear negative impacts.

        Very tough choices, but putting the onus on PTAs is misplaced as Robert Reich pointed out.

  6. Paul on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:09 am04/2/2014 10:09 am

    • 000

    Unfortunately, Don, this article is right-on-the-money.

    When state voters allow base education funding to decline to the point that it becomes common for individual schools to pay for some certificated teaching positions (!) with local fundraising, we have a problem.

    Like local parcel taxes, school fundraising compounds inequities, because:

    1. Appreciable amounts of money can only be raised in wealthy neighborhoods or districts.

    2. Poor people don’t vote, or don’t have political clout. Once wealthy, influential voters see that the funding gap has been closed in their local school or district, they have LESS reason to lend their powerful voices to state-level school funding campaigns that would benefit other people’s children.

    The best evidence of fundraising inequities was a series of articles in the Toronto Star, circa 2011. There was a map showing differences in per-pupil fundraising results for each school in North America’s third-largest school district.

    By way of background, fundraising became important after a Conservative provincial government centralized education funding along the lines of post-Serrano California. Ontario’s formula equalized funding at the LOWEST level, leaving economically- and ethnically-diverse urban districts scrambling. (By accident, high-cost districts in remote northern areas — Conservative strongholds — were also affected.)

    Though the original Toronto Star series is no longer online, these links tell the story:


    • CarolineSF on Apr 2, 2014 at 12:11 pm04/2/2014 12:11 pm

      • 000

      For 10 years, SFUSD schools have had a funding stream of voter-approved city money from the Public Education Enrichment Fund (ending next year and proposed for renewal). A portion of it is designated (by mandate) for sports, libraries arts and music. So I’m wondering about this statement in the article: As principal, Evelyn Cheung has had to make hard choices in the past five years, in consultation with teachers and parents. One year they stopped buying supplies. The budget for the library fell to $500. Cheung was forced to lay off classroom aides, the nurse, the social worker and all “consultancies” — mainly arts teachers.

      Could the author please clarify how the PEEF money fits into this picture?

    • Don on Apr 2, 2014 at 6:42 pm04/2/2014 6:42 pm

      • 000

      Paul, this article was written for the local scene here in SF. We has the highest private school enrollment of any city in the nation, plus 30%. There are few wealthy people attending public schools here, with the minor exception of a few at Lowell HS. The wealthy don’t contribute to public schooling as they do in districts like Palo Alto on the peninsula. It also has a very large Asian immigrant population that does not participate in great numbers in PTAs. My children attended a high achieving 2/3 Asian school and it did not raise more than about 5% of the school budget. Yet, because the school was over 900 API the district reduced funding every year in larger amounts than on average during the recession. The PTA had a history of supporting arts and music, but it chipped in about a third of the salary to prevent having a 4-5 split. This was accomplished by using LEP money to pay for 2/3s of the salary. No one cared that restricted categorical EIA money intended for ELD was used to hire a gened teacher, SFUSD included .English acquisition is important in the early grades, but how many white PTA people cared about the Chinese students? And the Chinese didn’t advocate for themselves.

      Superintendent Zones schools were kept flush so that in the end the Superintendent could claim he turned around low-performing schools through a concentrated effort. The problem is that he didn’t turn them around at all and the rest of the district suffered while he experimented. There is no accountability for remediation results.

      My point is this: while SFUSD was transferring millions of dollars to fund Superintendent Zone schools along with a $45M School Improvement Grant, PTAs were playing with petty change. But you get articles like this that create the appearance of a massive inequity due to private money. The caveat is that donated money is more fungible and restricted funds are not. OTOH, once a PTA buys a teacher you can say sayonara to ever getting that teacher back.

  7. el on Apr 1, 2014 at 11:02 pm04/1/2014 11:02 pm

    • 000

    Thanks for the article. I think it does a good job of laying out the issues all the way around, and some of the reasons why LCFF’s concentrated money for low income students makes sense.


    • Don on Apr 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm04/2/2014 4:24 pm

      • 000

      El, I don’t get your statement – “LCFF’s concentrated money for low income students makes sense.” The concentration grant speaks to districts in excess of 55% low performing, not just low performing students in general. The case for compensatory education is not in dispute (caveat below) and I don’t believe LCFF was making a case for it as much as it was designed to make sure that the grants are used as intended now that restricted categorical funding and their respective resource codes and accountability as well are largely eliminated. We’ve had comped for decades through categorical state and federal programs. Base and Concentration grants are simply an extension of that under a different funding scheme.

      Dawn points out that the Constitution guarantees a free and equal education and its hard to rationalize such huge disparities in funding with those Constitutional imperatives. Margaret Weston of PPIC pointed out that, previously, flexed categoricals were in effect revenue limit and therefore subject to Serrano. The same should go for LCFF. I believe we’ll have legal challenges as a result, particularly because the amount of funding set aside for the nonbase grants are not aligned with any particular data and seem arbitrary. But I fear I’m getting off topic.

  8. Don on Apr 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm04/1/2014 10:35 pm

    • 000

    In all the years I’ve followed education issues, this is one of the most inaccurate articles I’ve come across. Does Mr. Smith realize that a school has a budget and that PTA donations, even the biggest ones, are a small part of the total finance picture of a school? Or did Mr. Smith have some other reason for leaving this out in order to paint his “rich school, poor school” tableaux? I could cite the figures and I did so on another on-line magazine, but, suffice is to say, students at Junipero Serra receive much more per pupil than students at Grattan. And they should given the needs of the school.


    • Paula Campbell on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:09 am04/2/2014 10:09 am

      • 000

      I was looking for the budgets for these two schools. Does the money raised by the PTA more than make up for the difference for schools without the demographics to justify additional district funding? Is it less? Certainly not clear from this article.

      • Don on Apr 2, 2014 at 5:25 pm04/2/2014 5:25 pm

        • 000

        Not even close.

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