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.
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.
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.