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San Francisco Board of Education Considers Controversial Use of Bond Funds

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San Francisco Unified School District
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A sign says "Make social justice a reality" in a hallway at the San Francisco Unified School District main administrative offices.

Update 10/13/21:
The Board of Education delayed the vote on a proposal to reallocate funding from the 2016 Bond. They rescheduled the vote to take place in two weeks.

Voters approved a $100 million dollar bond in 2016, and the school board promised to use the money to build a new campus for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and city arts center. But the school board is now considering a district recommendation to use the money to pay for air filtration and physical improvements to other deteriorating schools.

Over 49,000 students enrolled at San Francisco public schools at the beginning of this school year. Data indicates a nearly seven percent decline since the fall 2019 and almost a five percent decline since last year. All together this could mean a loss of $35 million in state grants next fiscal year.[1]

According to Here Say Media, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) budget office estimates its deficit for the 2023 fiscal year at $112 million—this does not factor in any further enrollment declines. The Public Relations Manager at San Francisco Unified School District communicated a one-time federal and state funds were used to address a $100M deficit of the FY 2021-22 Unrestricted General Fund to prevent layoffs and staff reductions and provided this quote from Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews:

Even before the pandemic SFUSD was facing a structural deficit. There are a number of factors contributing to SFUSD’s expenses exceeding its revenue including current employee and retiree benefits, salaries and programs that serve our highest need students. These are just a few areas where costs have increased by tens of millions in recent years. This year SFUSD received millions in one-time state and federal COVID relief dollars. The majority of these funds are going toward stabilizing staffing positions to prevent layoffs and staff reductions. Significant funds are also going to support expanded summer and after-school programs, new online learning programs for students who are medically fragile, and other COVID-related expenses. The magnitude of this challenge warrants a strategic, priorities-based approach and we are working diligently with our community and the SF Board of Education to plan.”

Reports showed the most significant decline in enrollment is with younger students. Kindergarten enrollment dropped by 13 percent over the last two years. The district notes the highest numbers of students leaving SFUSD schools are from White, Asian, and Filipino communities.

SFUSD is also facing a possible takeover by the California Department of Education (CDE).

SFUSD's Public Relations Manager stated that SFUSD in close communication with CDE officials and requested to work with the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) even before officially receiving the letter from CDE in September. That person stated that when CDE formally alerted SFUSD of its qualified status last June, they did not formally require a balancing plan by a specific deadline, and SFUSD did not miss any stated deadlines. The manager added that CDE knows SFUSD is working toward submitting a plan by the stated deadline of December 15, 2021.