kids classroom holding hands
High schoolers at June Jordan in the Excelsior benefit from intimate class sizes. Photo courtesy June Jordan School for Equity

As San Francisco public school principals turned in their 2023-24 budget proposals to Superintendent Matt Wayne this past Friday, many scrambled to find solutions to cuts at schools that have seen slight enrollment reductions over the last few years.

So far, John O’Connell High School, June Jordan School for Equity, and Cleveland Elementary School are three of the schools in for cuts of about $200,000 each. These are smaller schools that provide specialized, intimate classrooms for their students, the majority of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged. A large margin of enrolled students are Latinx and Black. 

The cuts come on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement in January of a $108.8 billion budget for 2023-4 for K-12 schools and community colleges. That’s $1.5 billion less than this year.

An email to O’Connell teachers stated: “We have received our complete budget allocations for the 2023-24 school year and, unfortunately, we are looking at a $222,000 reduction in funding next year.” 

Projections for each of the three schools amount to three teacher salaries being cut. In some cases, these positions will be terminated. In others, teachers who quit or retire will simply not be replaced.

graph school
Cuts at John O’Connell Technical High School could mean fewer teachers or less prep time.

Overall, the San Francisco Unified School District has lost around 10,000 students since 2019, many due to the pandemic. Educators at multiple schools said the district “tosses around” enrollment as a justification for cuts. But, according to Ed Data, while being “underenrolled” for its capacity, O’Connell actually saw a slight increase in students since 2020.

Principal Susan Ryan told the school to prepare for two potential outcomes: Cutbacks in teaching staff, or shrinking Common Planning Time, the time instructors have allotted to design curriculum and meet with students and families. Staff said Ryan is working hard to petition the district to keep staffing at current levels.

“We’ve already been told to expect larger class sizes for next year,” said an educator in O’Connell’s English Department. “Admin said they won’t replace three teachers. I worry about the additional strain that is going to be put on the school for next year because of that.”

Common Planning Time is precious, said the instructor, and already gets cut short. “Every day, we are asked if we are able to give up our preps to cover someone’s class because there aren’t enough subs.” With the district’s chronic understaffing and upheaval, students need as much individual attention as they can get.

She stated that admin in 2022-23 went down to 0.8 out of 1.0 hours, and O’Connell’s main office lost one of its three staffers. 

With approximately 440 students coming from low-income families, and a climbing number of students with specific access needs each year (like English language learners, blind and deaf students, and neurodivergent students) many educators described the lack of resources as “depressing.”

“More and more, teachers burn out and bodies fall away,” said a Special Education instructor at O’Connell, who plans to leave the school eventually.

At a community meeting held this past Tuesday to address budget concerns, only three people showed up: Principal Susan Ryan, Assistant Principal Amy Abero and Mission Local.

Claudia Delarios Moran, principal at neighboring bilingual elementary school Buena Vista Horace Mann, was dismayed at O’Connell’s situation. A majority of Buena Vista students are English-language learners and come from “zip codes experiencing hardship,” she said. To be successful, a more intimate class size is ideal, she said.

“We love the fact that it’s a small school,” she said of O’Connell. “It’s so much better for our students than going to a school with 4,000 kids there. It’s painful that they’re being cut.” 

June Jordan, a high school in the Excelsior, faces a similar situation, with an estimated $200,000 cut to its budget. It has lost around 20 students since 2019.

“Our school was created and formed by parents and community members with the intention of having a small school serving primarily Black and Brown youth in this city,” said one June Jordan teacher, who asked to remain anonymous. 

school building
John O’Connell Technical High School in the Mission at Folsom and 20th Streets. Photo by Antonio Garbasso, Santos Prescott and Associates

The educator noted one major source of funding for SFUSD schools is each institution’s Parent Teacher Associations. But at June Jordan, whose student body is exclusively Black and Latinx kids from mostly under-resourced backgrounds, parents don’t have time to form a PTA.

“We don’t have a parent liaison. We don’t have a set of Chromebooks. We have one language class. We don’t have AP or honors classes,” she said. “Students notice racial inequities; they notice we have less resources than other schools.”

A CalMatters analysis pointed out that new funding for California school districts may not achieve the equity that Gov. Newsom promised; less than 26 percent of Black students in California go to a school that qualifies for the budget increase.

Michael Essien, the principal at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School, which also has a largely low-income student body, confirmed the necessity of PTAs for funding.

Essien said the coming budget cuts “are going to have a disproportionate impact” on schools without PTAs. “Usually, a PTA is connected with families who have jobs and time to do these things.” 

He stated that Newsom’s SFUSD budget increase is going mostly to community schools and to before and after school care. But this has nothing to do with the longstanding $125 million structural deficit, said Essien.

At nearby Cleveland Elementary, where the student body is majority Latinx and Filipinx, SFUSD’s budget office advised them “to cut three classroom teachers and make combination classes,” said educator Evelyn Martinez, an 11-year third-grade teacher with the school’s Spanish Bilingual Program and 16-year SFUSD veteran. The school has lost upwards of 30 kids since 2019.

A combo class is when one teacher is saddled with two grades in one class, usually lower grades: Kindergarten gets combined with first grade, second grade with third, and fourth grade with fifth.

“The problem is, they’re choosing to cut the Spanish Bilingual Program, and it’s really difficult to teach a combo class,” she said. “We don’t get any special training. It’s exponentially harder. There’s huge developmental differences at those ages.” 

Another thing, noted Martinez, is that her program has actually seen a larger number of newcomers, or, native Spanish speakers who recently moved to the city. 

“They’re saying we’re not getting enough students in the bilingual program anymore, but in my case I have received three newcomers in 2022-23. And I know the other bilingual teachers have been receiving students. 

“SFUSD always talks about keeping cuts away from classrooms,” said Martinez, but here we are. She suspects closures for smaller SFUSD schools may be on the not-so-distant horizon.

Finalized budgets for SFUSD schools will be sent to the state for review by July.

Follow Us

Reporter/Intern. Griffin Jones is a writer born and raised in San Francisco.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. How many out of the classroom positions are being cancelked. If you don’t have an accurate SFUSD organizational chart how could you know positions and their function?

  2. A little background: School funding is based on a combination of student need and attendance at the school. The state money that funds education is allocated to the school district the exact same way: student need and number of students.

    Based on the increased needs of their students, all of the schools in the article received more funding than the average (SFUSD 2022-23 site based funding)

    Average. School
    Elementary schools
    $7,814. Cleveland. $8,690

    High school.
    $ 6,520. June Jordan. $8,393. O’Connell. $7,148

    1. A chart that shows the PTA funding of schools (or lack thereof) would be really interesting, wouldn’t it Carol?

  3. Great article. Many more schools besides the aforementioned , like Cesar a Chavez, are cutting classroom and creating combination classes like mine (1/2 split and next year 2/3)

  4. This particular superintendent came from Hayward where he closed schools again and again. Unless the city joins together across the board, the same is going to happen here. It is absolutely disgusting. Let’s not forget a huge amount of donation to the school board recall came form Arthur Rock, an elderly venture capitalist with charter school interests. No coincidence. Public schools are for public good. Charter schools are for profit with the intention of creating gig workers out of educators.

  5. First two times I read your headline I wondered what “cutting a blow” was …..”cuts a blow”. How about “cuts are a blow” for those of us who are literal readers?

  6. June Jordan could have AP classes, if they didn’t consider them racist.
    June Jordan is one of the few campuses to have an active shooter in the past five years.
    June Jordan offers “excellent” classes in DJing and BRAPP (how to fix your non-licensed motorbike).
    June Jordan lives in their own little world.

  7. I can highly recommend the SPEdUo blog for a quantitative take on why the SFUSD budget is so messed up.

    He addresses school size in particular and as popular as they are, SF has an unusually high number of smaller elementary schools and that goes a long way towards explaining why it gets worse outcomes educationally than comparable school districts in the state.

    1. I think you mean ‘SFEdUp’ but yes, agreed, this blogger does excellent analysis.

      After doing as thorough a search of high schools and their offerings as I could with my current 9th grader, plus reading a little more about how June Jordan came about (our esteemed Lowell-for-me-but-not-for-thee BoE Commissioner Matt Alexander was one of the founders), I hold the opinion that June Jordan should be closed and combined with Marshall HS. The New School of SF (which is a public school but Alison Collins loathes so much has forced it to hold a charter with the state instead of SFUSD) could take over and thrive on that campus now that City Arts & Tech has merged with Leadership HS and moved over to the Leadership campus.

  8. If the cuts are being made only to those schools with declining enrollment, then in what sense are those schools being “underserved”

  9. So spending thousands of dollars on some useless, fancy public bathrooms is more important than our kids, and their education? Oh wait, they’re not white, that’s why bathrooms are more important. 🤦🤬

    1. First of all, SF has far fewer public bathrooms per capita than many cities and that partially explains the dangerous amount of filth on our streets.

      Second, you seem to be forgetting that city funds and school district funds are almost completely separate. School districts are funded by the state.

  10. And yet, sfusd has broken ground and is building a new school. This is happening while it continues to dump millions upon millions upon more millions into a payroll system that doesn’t work. Someone needs to audit that because financially thats the definition of insanity.

    The small schools often have disproportionately more under-served and high-need students and cutting their budgets just makes bad situations worse.

    1. Additionally, this particular “rotten apple” of a payroll system had a known history of being problematic before it was even invested in. Shame on upper admin at 555.

  11. I’m sure that Patrick Wolff, Maya Keshavan, and the rest of those obsessed with the fine details of the middle school math curriculum will be filing a lawsuit to block these cuts immediately. Surely they are as concerned with equity as they claim to be and aren’t simply using it purely as a cudgel to further the selfish interests of their own enormously privileged offspring!

    1. Their kids have already graduated from SFUSD or left the district, but nice try.

      I’m trying to follow your reasoning. You don’t think that it’s a problem that SFUSD’s math policy violates state law by forcing students who took a course to repeat it if they don’t meet cut score? To get high-school credit for a course taken outside SFUSD, one only needs to earn a ‘B’ or better for every course except Algebra I, so the district doesn’t even have a logically consistent policy. And besides all this, the district’s math policy has been proven with data to not help anyone, nor does it save money. (There’s staff involved with writing and administering a validation test. This costs money.)

      To read more about how SFUSD’s math policy has hurt Black & brown kids, just read here:

      …Or sure, just continue with your nonsensical blither blather.

      1. lmao all the MORE reason these selfless, principled champions of equity should be trumpeting this cause from the rooftops. what better way to demonstrate their good-faith commitment to equity than by devoting their time and legal resources to helping underserved kids at schools that their own children don’t attend?

        it’s hilarious how predictable you guys are at popping up the instant someone triggers you and launching right into your talking points.