Prop. H funds vex school board 

A nearly three-hour ideological stalemate Tuesday night between interim Superintendent Gwen Chan and the Board of Education over how to use $650,000 — for more violence-prevention programs or for more school computers and classroom coaches — revealed that improving schools is not as simple as having access to more money.

The spending debate was over Proposition H funds, approved by voters in March 2004 to provide public schools with educational extras out of The City’s general fund. On Tuesday, the board voted on a spending plan for the 2007-08 school year.

Under the funding ordinance, half of the district’s annual Prop. H allocation — which next year will be $20 million — is earmarked for sports, arts, libraries and music, with the other half left up to the district’s discretion for general uses.

As the meeting dragged past 10 p.m., Chan, with frustration in her voice, said her recommendations for the $10 million in discretionary funds were spurred by the weight of her experience and the input of principals.

"I’m not scolding anybody, I just talk like this when I’m tired," Chan said. "Can’t we just compromise?"

Last week,Chan told the school board she disagreed with a $1.6 million proposal to give each public high school and middle school $50,000 to use for "violence prevention" activities that would be determined by each school.

Chan instead asked that $750,000 of the funding go to support 10 additional math and reading coaches, and that nearly $1 million be invested in new computers. In addition, she asked that $600,000 be allocated to pay for a districtwide computer system that would be used to track student achievement data. Chan also disagreed with the committee’s proposal to more than double the amount of funding for translation services within the district by allocating an additional $600,000 for the department.

After a majority of school board members expressed support for the violence-prevention and translation funding, Chan came back to this week’s meeting with a counteroffer, suggesting that $600,000 be shaved from the violence prevention proposal to help fund the academic needs and that $400,000 more be provided for translation needs.

For nearly three hours, the board debated the merits of social programs and translation services against academic initiatives and listened to competing ideas from members of the public, school administrators and faculty, students and members of the community advisory committee that had already spent numerous months laboring over the recommendations.

In the end, board members approved a final compromise, suggested by Board of Education President Mark Sanchez, to shave $335,000 from several areas within the proposal in order to redirect the money to academic purposes.

"It’s so exciting that we’re arguing about money that we never had," said newly elected school board member Hydra Mendoza, the education adviser for Mayor Gavin Newsom.

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