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.”