For school officials in San Francisco, having to cut next year’s budget by $ 90 million means cutting some extra-curricular offers. But for the students who rely on these programs, they are just as essential as any classroom course.
Under the watchful eye of state officials poised to step in and take control of the financially strapped district, the San Francisco Unified School District must balance a structural deficit of $ 125 million for the next school year. To cut $ 90 million, he adopted a plan that includes cutting school budgets by $ 50 million and $ 10 million in direct services.
Some of these offerings, called direct services, include internship, mentoring and wellness support programs. Student supporters especially plead with the district to keep three of them intact: the Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps (JROTC), whose mission is to help students become better citizens; Peer Resources, which teaches leadership skills; and Advancement Through Individual Determination (AVID), which focuses on success in higher education.
Time and time again in public comments and in The Examiner, students said these programs taught them life-skills, from leadership development to financial literacy, skills that prepare them for life after high school.
âIt has been a huge help in the lives of many students,â said Agnes Liang, a student delegate at the Board of Education, of her experience with AVID. âIt helps you recognize your potential, it helps you recognize that you have something to offer to the community and to the bigger world. It just shows that we have to work even harder to restore whatever is going to be deleted throughout this (budget) process.
JROTC’s budget would be reduced by $ 500,000. District staff contend that the program does not serve the district’s âvision of equityâ and that enrollment numbers are low. Peer resources would potentially be wiped out after being cut by $ 1.1 million, a move also attributed to the low enrollment rate. AVID would be cut completely to save $ 630,000 from the general fund. It is not known how many students these programs serve and what capacity would remain, if any.
Ophelia Williams, executive director of Peer Resources, said at least 300 students from more than 15 school sites are served by the program, which would be wiped out by the proposed cuts.
âIt would be devastating,â Williams said. âIt can be just numbers on a page. They are our most marginalized students, they are students facing great adversity, they need the program to stay the course.
The programs are considered “service improvements” as part of the district’s budgeting process, said SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick.
“The budget cuts will reduce service improvements, identify ways to configure the delivery of core and priority services more efficiently, and preserve high leverage, high impact investments,” Dudnick said in an email.
The cuts come at a time when students are adjusting to a full schedule in person as the pandemic continues and may experience mental health issues as well as academics.
Josue Cruz, 16, said he felt like an outcast coming to Lowell High School and struggling with a heavy workload. He found JROTC through his Drum Core and said he felt like he had found his family and mentors. He is now teaching other students.
âI’m being taught things that I will probably use in the future,â said Cruz. âSeeing that withdrawn, I think about how all future students might not have the opportunity to grow up like I did. All of these students are going to enter this environment without having any program that they can relate to.
JROTC students talked about learning first aid, reading maps, gaining financial literacy, proper food etiquette, physical activity, exercise teams, and general skills in accountability and leadership in the classroom and in extracurricular activities.
The students rejected the idea that the JROTC, which is made up of retired military personnel but does not recruit, indoctrinates students into the military. Maricar Esquivel, an elder at Balboa High School and the brigade commander who oversees JROTC at the seven high schools, highlighted the volunteer work they do, such as at the food banks.
âWe have done so much for the city,â Esquivel said. âAll of the cadets went out of their way to give back. I don’t see any other program that does all the work that we are.
Liang, who attends Mission High School, said she finds the cuts heartbreaking while acknowledging the need to prevent a state takeover. She previously attended Peer Resources and is now at AVID, a program she sees as a boon to first-generation students like Cruz, who was also in the program.
Alan Wang, an Abraham Lincoln High School student, went through AVID in middle school, where he learned the basic skills of staying organized and taking effective notes. He also learned to write professional emails and academic essays.
âWithout these things, I don’t think people will feel ready for the world,â Wang said. âIt really helped prepare me for the high school experience and a bit of college. Students will lose this opportunity to stand up for what they believe in, one less opportunity to practice leadership. “
Wang also participated in Peer Resources as a paid intern in the first year to reach out to young people. He created video presentations to raise awareness of anti-Asian discrimination and promote vaccination for his fellow students.
Students and educators serving the programs will continue to advocate for the preservation of the programs, and some hope more will be cut off from central operations instead. But above all, they want to be heard.
âThey don’t listen to our voices,â said Pradipti Lama, a student from Lowell High School who is at JROTC. âI just hope (the officials) step into our shoes and hear how important it is to us. We are the ones who are suffering (the cuts), not the politicians. â