The San Francisco Unified School District unveiled its plan to avoid a state takeover on Tuesday, proposing massive cuts and firings to eliminate the current $125 million shortfall that the District faces next year.
The projected shortfall in the SFUSD’s $1.2 billion budget, caused by multiple factors including a declining enrollment, a loss of tax base, the end of stopgap federal COVID-19 assistance, and a rise in discretionary spending, has been the subject of much scrutiny amongst San Francisco politicians, school officials, parents, and school staff for months. When the state began to threaten a takeover until the budget could be sorted out and assigned a fiscal expert to help organize a viable budget-balancing plan, SFUSD officials quickly organized and came up with the proposal.
The 2022-2023 Proposed Budgeting Plan proposes a cut of $50 million in general funding for individual schools, $10 million cut from specialized student services such as special education and Junior ROTC, and $20 million from administration and operations services. In addition, a cut of 360 school-based jobs and 55 administrative jobs, including the complete elimination of counselors, would be put into effect.
Teachers and teacher union officials immediately opposed the plan on Tuesday, noting that the cuts would only hurt the school district as it returns to normal post-pandemic and concerns that the cuts will effect the most vulnerable students the most.
“I don’t know of one school site that at this moment can say, yeah we don’t need so and so, or we don’t need this position,” said United Educators of San Francisco president Cassondra Curiel on Wednesday. “Cuts to schools or schools having to make the decision around which positions to cut only exacerbates the trauma we’ve been through. We’re talking about, from levels of administration and management that aren’t maybe directly impacting students at this moment. Perhaps special projects can be paused until such a time that grants can be found.”
“Schools across California are suffering from unenrollment especially in large urban districts that didn’t see this coming. I’m looking forward in the next six weeks to a significant reduction in the number of staff cuts.”
Others, such as SFUSD Budget Services Director Anne Marie Gordon, acknowledged that the budget cuts were necessary but that and negativity on student experiences should be minimized.
“I don’t think there’s a way that we balance our budget without having an impact on student experiences,” said Gordon on Tuesday. “We want to do as much as we can do minimize that impact.”
A possible state takeover for the SFUSD
However, fiscal experts say that the cuts are needed to save the school system from a state takeover that could significantly alter the district.
“San Francisco has prided itself on having a progressive school district, and since the tech boom, a decently funded district,” said Donald Hodges, a New Orleans-based educational consultant who focuses on fiscal matters, to the Globe on Wednesday. “But a lot of companies are pulling out of [San Francisco], with a lot of wealthy people too. That tax base is hurting. Plus with the District facing major changes due to a School Board recall election next year and now a possible state takeover of the system, a lot is working against them.”
“Honestly, this happens all the time with larger school districts who don’t think the good times will ever end and just pump a lot into education. But then when the good times end, the Districts don’t want to face the realities of losing teachers or programs, or entire schools. This happened with rust belt cities following deindustrialization, this happened here in New Orleans post-Katrina, we saw it with wealthier cities on the coasts in districts that had a majority of students go to private schools, and now it’s starting to happen to San Francisco. They got too comfortable where they were.
“Cuts hurt. They always do. But they just got too big and didn’t think about retraction. They forgot to budget correctly. Now they’re paying for it.”
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