Carlos Garcia considers his job a hobby. As a hobbyist, he's passionate about educating children and doesn't react to negative perceptions about the SFUSD. While public opinion is influential, Mr. Garcia conveyed to the members of the GAPAC that he relies primarily on real data to run the school district, "I'm a data junkie" Garcia said, "and I use it to drive the direction of the SFUSD.” As Superintendent of Schools for the District since July of 2007, Mr. Garcia mentioned that when he took the position he was "shocked and disgusted” by the data - the numbers demonstrated that “San Francisco was not as 'progressive' in its school policies as he previously had believed.” Indeed, he stated that the numbers showed a dropout rate for Latinos and African-Americans of approximately 50%, and African-American children were even underperforming when measured against special education kids. This achievement gap has got to be eliminated, and is his top priority as School Superintendent.
Prior to Mr. Garcia's arrival, the SFUSD was troubled by policy decisions that had limited the District's ability to effectively deliver educational resources to the children of San Francisco. He hastened to add, however, that even with the drawbacks, the SFUSD is the highest performing urban school district in California and in 2009 had the highest educational improvement scores in the District's history for African American, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander students.
The San Francisco Unified School District
Financing is, perpetually, the biggest hurdle to overcome according to Mr. Garcia, and with California and San Francisco showing red ink for the next few years, more cuts will be necessary to balance the District's budget. To facilitate this, Mr. Garcia stated that he'll have no choice but to increase class sizes, work with the teacher's union on freezing salaries to "not spend a nickel over our budget as outlined in the Strategic Plan." Mr. Garcia elaborated that he will be reviewing a 20-25% cut in the District's budget in the next 2 years--this is on top of 15-20% in cuts in the last 2 years, to balance the budget. “This is worse than even the Great Depression Years”, said Garcia.
In addition, Mr. Garcia mentioned that there is only $6 million dollars left in the City's Rainy Day Fund for the District, so that is no longer a useful bailout to help it balance the budget. In order to prevent further cuts anticipated in the future, Mr. Garcia is looking at making the hard cuts now to keep the district solvent for the next few years. "Of course there will always be unknown variables" said Garcia," but we need to look at making the tough decisions now to properly plan for the future."
Budget - Administrative Overhead
On average, Mr. Garcia mentioned, 3.5% of the SFUSD budget is spent on administrative overhead; most districts in the state average approximately 5.5%.
Building New Schools to be State-of-the-Art
According to Garcia, the SFUSD lacks the characteristics of a 21st Century educational system and is, in his estimation, approximately 10 years behind its peers in delivering the necessary curriculum that San Francisco students will need to compete in a globalized, technology-based economy. Mr. Garcia--who is no stranger to building new schools--wants to "slowly [i.e., one school at a time] create a different environment" where dynamic programs will be created, and technology and science are a priority. He is also seeking $3-4 million to equip every teacher in the District with a laptop computer. He also wants to put all high school classes online.
New Student Assignment Plan
Working the San Francisco Board of Education, Mr. Garcia is hoping to implement a new "hybrid" student assignment plan that will allow for some form of neighborhood school assignment while allowing socially and economically disadvantage children the opportunity to receive a better education. You can read more about the options that are being considered, here.
Teaching the Teachers
For Mr. Garcia, the fundamentals are essential. He stated that not all teachers are instructed on the proper way to teach a child to read. To make sure that the SFUSD teachers were competent in this area, Mr. Garcia developed a program to teach over 500 educators in the San Francisco school system on how to teach children to be literate.
BOMA San Francisco's Advocacy Team thanks Carlos Garcia for taking the time to speak to the GAPAC today. We look forward to Mr. Garcia’s continued success with the SFUSD, and we look forward to working with him on issues of mutual concern in the future.