New rating confirms crisis 

It seems like only yesterday the appropriately named Moody’s raised The City’s credit rating for lease revenue bonds from Aa3 to Aa2. Actually, it was August 2008 and The City had just completed a budget cycle. Now, we’re back down to Aa3, which is apparently a financial hieroglyph for “negative.”

In a report issued Tuesday, Moody’s drew a big frowny face on The City’s financial report card because “more than half of the $483 million budget gap is addressed with one-time measures,” like “$45 million in federal and $88 million in state funding.” Cue Supervisor David Chiu saying loudly (he’d never actually yell), “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you people! We need tax revenue!”

Also, the writers of the report were unimpressed by this fact: While everyone stands around high-fiving The City’s unions for “giving back,” the truth is that the $62 million in labor concessions are just 12 furlough days per year for two years. So, at the end of fiscal year 2011-12, those savings disappear and we’re back where we started.

In other words: San Francisco is in serious budgetary trouble, but the only thing politicians have really managed to change so far is our credit rating.


Budget Committee can provide entertainment

This week, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee continued its grim task of making Thanksgiving dinner out of lemons. The committee hearings are hideously long — about five hours each — but they sometimes contain real gems.

Here are two of my favorites so far:

- The creepy discussion June 16 about whether to continue contracting out “body-removal services” for a savings of $30,000. During public comment, a man with the best business card ever (“Death Investigator”) explained that body removal is only part of an investigator’s job. Because she’s obviously a “Law and Order: CSI” fan, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell decided to wake up and ask questions about this item. What ensued was an extended discussion rife with references to body bags, corpses and suicide. The committee didn’t make a decision on the budget item, but I was too distracted to notice.

- The Probation Department is quietly in a crisis. On June 17, Wendy Still, chief of the agency, appeared at the committee and explained that the department has 7,273 cases and 36 probation officers supervising the criminals. The American Probation and Parole Association recommends that “high-risk” cases be assigned at a rate of 20 per officer (our ratio is 77-to-1), “medium-risk” cases be assigned at a rate of 50 per officer (ours is 162-to-1) and “low-risk” cases be assigned at a rate of 200 per officer (ours is 871-to-1). According to Still, the department would need to hire 89 additional officers in order to comply with association standards. Nevertheless, Still accepted a $227,000 cut in the department’s budget.

Hug your nearest probation officer — if you can find one.


Kids could be going to school closer to home if voters comply

As my mother likes to remind me during the holidays, I don’t have any children. This fact generally makes me reluctant to write about kid-related issues like education, but today I have to make an exception because I listed some possible ballot measures last week and inadvertently left one off the list: Students First.

This initiative would make it city policy that “the proximity of a student’s home to the assigned school should be the highest priority in San Francisco Unified School District’s student assignment system,” though children could attend schools farther away from their homes if parents chose that avenue.

For those of you who are new to San Francisco: To enroll a child in a San Francisco public school, parents apply to seven schools and then pray their child gets into one of them. Unless a child has a sibling at a particular school, he or she will be assigned based on a secret algorithm created by monkeys throwing darts (or something like that).

According to a 2008 grand jury report, there’s a 45 percent chance that parents won’t get any of their choices. The school one’s child is assigned to may very well be across town. This whole system drives every parent equally crazy, thus achieving the system’s foremost goal of “fairness.”

Reportedly, it costs $2 million to pay a staff of 29 people just to explain the “system” to parents and help them get their children enrolled. Add in the $15 million it costs to bus students around town, and you can see why so many people are willing to fight so kids can go to school in their own neighborhoods.

The parent-led Students First initiative is gathering signatures and hopes to qualify for the November ballot.

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Melissa Griffin

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