Dinorah Salazar's sixth-grade class work on math problems before beginning the lesson.

San Francisco schools will likely suffer staff layoffs in the near future, due to major budget shortfalls and depleted reserves. That’s according to an email sent by the district superintendent to San Francisco Unified School District staff Wednesday afternoon and obtained by Mission Local. 

We are facing the reality that there will need to be some employee layoffs this year,” wrote Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “While we hope to identify solutions that limit the loss of our staff, we have to plan now for the worst-case scenario.” 

It remains unclear how many staff members will be let go — and whether those will be teachers or other district employees. Matthews wrote in his email that the “school site” budget, which he said accounts for two-thirds of the overall budget, will need to be reduced by $10 million. Additionally, he wrote, the “centrally budgeted services,” administrative costs accounting for the other one-third of the budget, will be reduced by $16 million. 

In 2019, the total district operating budget was $880 million. Laura Dudnick, a spokeswoman with the school district, said in an email that in the current fiscal year, the district predicts a $31.8 million shortfall. In the next 2020-21 fiscal year, “we expect our budget shortfall will be double that.” 

Dudnick said San Francisco is not the only city to be experiencing “serious budget challenges.”

“Many of the factors driving our budget shortfall are impacting districts throughout California, like the chronic underfunding of special education services,” Dudnick wrote. “With this ongoing deficit, we need to implement structural solutions while also preparing for the worst case scenario, which likely includes some employee layoffs.”

San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Gabriela López said the board will work hard to ensure no teachers are laid off from schools. “We’re really making sure that’s not happening,” she said. 

The layoffs, she said, may take the form of education support staff, such as math and literacy coaches, who López said are still important. 

López said the shortfalls could be due to a high number of staff members on maternity leave and sabbatical. Also, expected funds from Proposition G — which passed in 2018 and would generate an anticipated $50 million annually for teacher salaries via a parcel tax — have not been released due to ongoing litigation.  

In his email, Matthews explained that, in the past, the school district has been able to draw on its reserves to cover shortfalls. Yet over the last couple of years, he wrote, the district’s expenses have “outpaced revenues.” To make up for those shortfalls, the district has reduced central administration costs, while leaving money for students intact. 

“What’s different this year, and for the foreseeable future, is that we’ve reached the point where we’ve depleted our reserves and, therefore, need to make more drastic cuts,” he said. 

“I am sorry to share this disheartening news,” he added. “We will be working with labor groups and elected officials to consider ways to reduce the impact on our students and staff.” 

He noted that, although funding has increased in the past decade, “it’s still woefully insufficient” in the face of cost-of-living expenses, student needs, and “the quality 21st-century education we seek to make possible for each and every child.” 

López and Board of Education President Mark Sanchez are looking for support from the Board of Supervisors to place a $200 million “set aside” on the November 2020 ballot — so that San Francisco can get closer to the national average of “per pupil” spending. Right now, she said, San Francisco ranks 41st in the country. This is a paltry showing, she says, “given where we live, and the rents teachers pay just push us lower and lower.” 

The United Educators of San Francisco, the teachers union, is not happy about the news or how it was handled. The union is “disappointed that the superintendent sent out an email to all our members about budget cuts and layoffs,” especially before the union was notified, said Elaine Merriweather, the union’s executive vice present, noting that the school district and the union had begun negotiations earlier this month.

She said the email created “chaos” among union members, and they plan to voice their concerns at the next school board meeting on Feb. 25. The school board members, she said, told her they were unaware that the announcement would be made and “expressed that the cuts will be as far away from the classroom as possible.”

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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31 Comments

  1. How is it that a city as wealthy as ours, with a budget that’s bigger than some states, can’t afford to pay our teachers the dismal salaries that they already have? This is our childrens’ future that we are shorting. I grew up in San Francisco and am a product of it’s public education system – from kindergarten all the way up to City College, before transferring to UC Berkeley. I have been greatful to the opportunities that our City’s education have afforded me, which is why it breaks my heart so much to say that I probably will not be sending my daughter to a SFUSD school once she reaches kindergarten.

    1. The City does not run the school district, which falls under state law. The city usually provides some additional funding to the schools, when their budget is closer to being finalized.

      1. Yes, I am aware that the School District and City Government are separate government entities. Nevertheless, it’s shameful that such a wealthy city has such a deteriorated public education system.

        1. I concur. Why cannot some of these ”
          luxury residence” developers be required to set aside funds for the SFUSD?

  2. high administrative costs. SFUSD and the SF city government is too bloated with bureacracy for its own good. fire the admin!

    1. Yes, Dennis, it is. Because cleaning streets and running schools are not the same thing. And, as others have noted, the city has only limited input into the funding and oversight of the school district in this and every county.

      Skepticism over how San Francisco is run is warranted, but this is reductive thinking and helpful to nobody.

      Yours,

      JE

      1. Yes, cleaning streets and running schools are different things. But parochialism, sclerotic administration, incompetence and outright corruption are citywide problems. Granted, the culture and competency of our municipal government varies dramatically across different departments and jurisdictions.

      2. >And, as others have noted, the city has only limited input into the funding and oversight of the school district in this and every county.

        Is the city restricted from adding additional funding to the states?

      3. Neither the city or county government is a model of efficiency and responsiveness.

        Both tasks require the political will to stand up to organized labor groups in order to effectively serve the needs of your constituents. Evaluating the quality of street cleaning is easy. Evaluating the quality of teaching is opaque and difficult. If we can’t even hold our street cleaners accountable to do their jobs well when the results are obvious to everyone, there’s little chance we can ensure our schools are being run effectively when it’s easier for elected officials to obfuscate and ignore poor results.

        We need less activist grandstanding and more results. Taxes here are far too high for the services we get from our government.

  3. These are the organizations responsible for the cuts to our public schools: Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association of California, the California Business Properties Association, and the California Business Roundtable. They are the ones who challenged Prop C in court and therefore have held up Prop G. The members of these organizations are intentionally preventing children from having childcare (Prop C), and a public education (Prop G.).

  4. What do you think “SFUSD” means? They’re city employees not state. The San Francisco public school system is very much run by the city of San Francisco. The job listings are on the Cities website.

  5. The whining about the need for other people’s money is tiresome and predictable. Oh, it’s not the school district’s fault for mismanagement and waste, its the fault of those evil homeowners who don’t want to give us more of their money to mismanage and waste. No accountability by the permanent bureocracy. Cry me a river

  6. $880M budget to educate 55,000 students. That’s $16,000 per student. At a class size of 20 that’s $320,000 per class. Where’s all that money going?

    1. Nobody wants to talk about that. They aren’t getting it to the kids or teachers. Let’s stop sending them money until they learn to be responsible.

  7. I wonder if anyone can clarify -The city also used to get revenue from Nordstrom at $200,000 a month rent (at least in 2009) as part of their real estate holdings- they have one of the largest real estate portfolios of any California School district – Is that still true?

  8. This organization — https://www.educateourstate.org/about –helps explain school funding in California – it is MESSY! Who does it benefit to keep it messy?

    The over all issue seems to be that TAX REVENUE passed by CA voters to be used for education purposes is routinely redirected to other purposes – often at the discretion of city governments (mayors).

    One example:
    Less than 18 months ago the City had a “windfall” of $415 of Excess Educational Revenue…this is an ongoing scenario.
    This helps explain more specifically what is happening in SF —

    https://www.educateourstate.org/san_francisco_county
    “When $415 million of Excess Educational Revenue was revealed last November, there was something interesting about it. Here is the Assessor’s Press Release. What doesn’t it mention? That the funding that’s been discovered was earmarked for schools. Fortunately, SF Chronicle reporters were on the job and described how $415 million of “excess” Educational Revenue was being redirected to the City to spend.”

    MY TWO CENTS:
    We need transparency and accountability at all levels of spending for SFUSD — we need specifics on how funding is used. GRANULAR accountability. Many schools are in disrepair, in a state that I believe San Franciscans would be ashamed of if they knew. We are dealing with rodent infested schools, filthy conditions, understaffed special education departments among other stressors that our students and teachers should not have to deal with – especially in, arguably, THE WEALTHIEST CITY IN THE WEALTHIEST COUNTY IN THE WORLD. We need an OUTSIDE AUDIT of the district – from the very top to the very bottom. It should include ALL aspects of the district– ALL departments – salaries, organizational charts and specific roles and responsibilities – are all these administrative and district staff positions needed?), facilities expenditures/is it equitable between west side and east side schools, etc.? It is too easy for no one to be held accountable.

    Yes, the City does influence School funding. Yes SF is both a County and a City and can create a budget funding stream to ensure our students and schools are properly funded and teachers can afford to work in San Francisco (yes, AFFORD to work here).

    If the City had the will it could clean up corruption. Too many excuses and turning a blind eye by those who are in charge — if you are in charge then you need to be held accountable – otherwise get out of the way and let’s put someone in charge who can handle that job — let’s not settle for — we are shocked!

    https://www.sfchronicle.com/local-politics/article/SF-official-arrested-by-FBI-was-go-to-guy-for-15011155.php
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/local-politics/article/SF-corruption-probe-Mayor-London-Breed-dated-15056830.php
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/SF-Public-Works-Director-Mohammed-Nuru-arrested-15010510.php .

    Where else is there corruption in our city? How does it affect our school district? Is there actual corruption in our school district?

    PS
    Rather disgusting that so many people in city government and administrative roles in our school district are making big salaries (private industry salaries – and eventually pensions) when teachers — STUDENT FACING workers — are scraping by and routinely having to pull the union card to get the district to be responsible to our students and teachers.

  9. I found this bit in the article bewildering (unclear? mis-stated? misleading?): “— so that San Francisco can get closer to the national average of “per pupil” spending. Right now, she said, San Francisco ranks 41st in the country.” If SF ranks as the 41st district on per pupil spending in the country (out of 13, 506 school districts in the US), then SF is in the top 0.3 percent in the country. So… already above the national average. Way above.

    Also, I’m surprised there was no critical lens around the fact that SFUSD’s administrative spending accounts for 30 percent of their total budget, according to this article. The national average as of 2016 was 7 percent. (See: https://www.governing.com/topics/education/gov-education-funding-states.html?fbclid=IwAR2JR5ar-PCAKYfDGvHk6_4Jt8bTy1MFAX0ziLUlY8HgzrqoYIRTm5v6Qpo).

    1. I’m not surprised that there is no critical sense around their budget. These are people who just spend like kids in a candy shop. They invent crisis after crisis just to keep getting us to send them more money. I’m not even a home owner, but I’m not voting to give them any more money. If they can’t manage a billion a year, I’m not giving them more money. They have too many people in middle and upper management stealing from kids with those ridiculous salaries to do nothing. The money never gets to the classroom. If they want to pay their cronies more money, then can get Salesforce to pay for it.

  10. Cut admin roles, and freeze any admin salary increases until the budget works. The teachers always get the short end of the stick, and there are far too many overpaid administrators.

  11. The classroom teachers are AWESOME and should NOT be cut at all. However, the bloated staff at central office absolutely needs to be trimmed down. There are way too many people on big salaries that aren’t just doing nothing, they are actually impeding learning outcomes. 555 Franklin should be running on about 30% of that over-bloated staff. The only reason UESF Solomon lets that happen, is that many of them pay her union dues. Put more money into the classrooms, kids and classroom teachers, but trim the morbid obesity fat at central office. We can save money and better serve the students.

    1. I feel bad for parcel tax payers. Your being forced to give corrupt top heavy people money instead of the money getting to kids.

  12. It makes no sense that SFUSD would be short of money. Most of their funding comes from property taxes, which are skyhigh and rising in SF, due to increased property values.

  13. Good Riddance to the SFUSD Literacy Specialists. I’ve never seen one of them do anything other than spread malicious gossip around the school. Get these nasty sycophants off the backs of real teachers do going work and get them off our payroll. They wasted enough money that should have been going to kids.

  14. I don’t even believe that they are really going to do layoffs. I believe this is all a ploy by the district and their corrupt friends at the union. They just want to keep adding regressive parcel taxes and they invent various crisis to get more money from the middle class. Bunch of crooks running that place.

  15. Property taxes.

    Let’s see, we have:
    1) SF-Teachers support – “San Francisco’s 20-year parcel tax will pump about $29 million into city schools each year” (old headline – it’s more money now).

    2) SFUSD Facility District – “Upgrading and repairing buildings, including paying salaries and benefits for employees working on these upgrades”.

    3) Living Wage for Educators 2018 Tax – yeah it’s tied up for the moment but the tax is being collected. Even on the remote chance this gets struck down what are they going to do – give the money back? with interest? Ha!

    Let’s not forget CCSF
    SFCCD Parcel tax – “maintain and enhance the quality of education at City College campuses”

    And coming up yet another bond/tax for the next scandal/corruption repeat – City College.
    Prop. A
    Sure – let’s add another $1,570,016,481 of debt (calculated with interest) to our beleaguered College.
    It has safety and green energy among the key words.
    Guaranteed to pass with an overwhelming majority in a thin turn-out election.

    It’s a bond – so it’s free money and backed by a Citizens Oversight Committee.
    I guess all the other bond measures passed over the years with no Oversight Committee had a lot of the revenue disappear down the black hole.
    This will be paid back with property taxes but only “estimates” are provided for what they will be.

    Supplemental property taxes are a sure winner in this City.
    Evil people who have the temerity to actually own their own home are a super easy target.
    They are a rich, privileged elite feeding on the blood of the workers and un-housed.
    We can’t officially expropriate their property (at least not yet) but we’ll drag them to the gutter (where they belong) financially.
    It’s a good end around Prop. 13 – all them old geezers paying pizza money in property taxes.

    Just include some buzzwords like park, children, safety, firefighters, schools, housing, teachers, clean streets, green, earthquake, water, etc. and your gravy train essential needs project will be funded.

    Oh yeah – don’t forget the Citizens Oversight Committee for a double guarantee.

    But that may not even be needed – can’t remember the last time an SF property tax or bond measure failed to pass – can you?

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