Arts at Risk as SFUSD Grapples with Draconian Budget Cuts

On Tuesday, January 26th the full San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education met to discuss the draconian budget cuts the District is facing over the next two years.  In total, the District is facing a $113 million shortfall (over two years) out of a total annual operating budget of $400 million.  That’s approximately a 14% annual cut to the entire District, and that’s not taking into account any future revenue revisions that could come down the line over the next two years.  Commissioner Jill Wynns called it “the worst she has ever seen” during her tenure on the Board.  Please see the recent San Francisco Chronicle story for more information on the SFUSD budget situation and Superintendent Garcia’s budget proposal.

Based on what we know to date, following is a summary of how SFUSD funding for arts and creativity is fairing in the face of these very challenging economic times:

  1. The ongoing CA State Arts & Music block grant to the SFUSD currently totals approximately $715K per year.  The Superintendent’s budget proposal is a two-year plan (2010-2012) that would “flex” all state Tier III categorical funding, which includes the ongoing Arts & Music block grant, to make up for cuts to the general fund.  Of the $715K/year in block grant funding, Superintendent Garcia has proposed “flexing” (a.k.a. cutting) $680K per year which totals approximately $1.36 million in cuts to the arts over two years.  There is still time to stop the raiding of the State Arts & Music block grant by making our case that this cut will unduly impact arts programming at school sites and reduce access and equity in the arts across the District.  Please contact the Board of Education and let them know that you DO NOT support the “flexing” of the state Arts & Music Block grant to make up for cuts to the District’s general fund.
  2. Prop H funding (a.k.a. the Public Education and Enrichment Fund or “PEEF”) has been reduced by 25% because Prop H language includes a clause stating:  “For the final five years, the amount (of annual funding) would increase or decrease from $60 million by the percentage change in discretionary City revenues for that year.”  Because City revenue is projected to decrease by approximately 25% in 2010-11, the Prop H funding has been reduced accordingly.  The arts are a part of the Prop H funding called “SLAM” (Sports, Libraries, Arts & Music).  SLAM was only cut by the required 25%, but the so-called “3rd third” which includes a number of different projects may  be flexed in its entirety to help cover the $113 million general fund deficit.  Performing Arts Workshop will continue to monitor that the Visual and Performing Arts budget that was tenatively approved at Tuesday’s board meeting is protected moving forward.
  3. A third main source of funding for the arts in the SFUSD is the Elementary Arts Program (EAP) contribution from the Mayor’s office which is annually work-ordered over to the District through the SF Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (DCYF).  This funding of approximatly $1.2 million appears to be safe for now.   This is one to watch considering the dire state of San Francisco’s budget situation.  To be proactive, the Performing Arts Workshop, on behalf of the Arts Providers Alliance of San Francisco, has submitted public comment to the DCYF Citizen’s Advisory Committee in support of these critical funds that are intended to level the playing field so that all SFUSD students have access to the quality arts education they need and deserve. 

All this is to say that we have a long road ahead of us, and that everyone concerned about the qualityof public education in the 21st Century must be ready to make the case that the arts are core to reforming the quality of education in San Francisco.  For far too long the arts have been funded only through vulnerable “categorical” sources of funding that are flexed or cut during challenging budget times like these.  This forces schools to fundraise independently for their own arts programs and reinforces the inequity between schools in our District.  This strategy is short-sided and contrary to the SFUSD’s goal of eliminating the “predictive power of demographics” by providing an equitable education for all students.  If we want a more culturally responsive, joyful and equitable educational system, then we need to start funding one.  Period.

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