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San Francisco Teachers Union Pushes to Keep All Schools Open, Despite Major Budget Deficit and Enrollment Drop

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A group of people, some holding signs, stand in front of a microphone, with an entrance to a building behind them.
United Educators of San Francisco President Cassondra Curiel leads a protest in front of San Francisco Unified School District headquarters on March 14, 2022, demanding officials immediately compensate hundreds of teachers who have been shortchanged because of payroll glitches. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin (third from left) is among the group's supporters. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The union representing thousands of teachers in San Francisco Unified is urging the district to keep all of its schools open even as it looks to address a looming budget deficit.

Last week, SFUSD announced plans to consider closing several school sites as the district faces a massive budget shortfall and declining enrollment. But union leaders say that the district should look to other means to balance its budget, like consolidating managerial and administrative positions.

As enrollment has dipped, “SFUSD has increased central office administration,” United Educators of San Francisco President Cassondra Curiel said. “How can a district have fewer students but more managers in a right-sizing effort?”

Large urban school districts across the state are grappling with shifting trends in enrollment and community frustration when schools face threats of closure. In Oakland, school closures in 2022 prompted a historic teacher sit-in and hunger strike.

In San Francisco, roughly 4,000 fewer students are enrolled in the current school year compared with the 2012–13 school year, according to district data. The district projects it will lose an additional 4,600 students by 2032 based on declining birth rate trends and other demographic shifts.

California allocates funding for most schools based on the number of students in their seats, so drops in enrollment reduce funding for the district. SFUSD is also proposing additional cuts to reign in next year’s $100 million budget shortfall for the district.

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“The reality is that while our circumstances have been changing for years, our district has not. In the past, we have resisted closing schools as our enrollment declined. As a result, our schools have gotten emptier,” the district wrote on its website. “By having fewer schools, we can concentrate our resources on enhancing educational programs, teacher support, and student services.”

SFUSD has not yet determined how many or which of its 121 schools will be considered for closure or to merge, but a list is expected by September or October 2024, according to the district’s website.

The Board of Education still needs to approve a resolution for the district to move ahead with closing or merging schools.

In the meantime, union leaders representing nearly 6,000 of the district’s educators say closing schools will disrupt learning and other crucial support systems for communities.

They are pushing for the district to keep schools open and restructure the budget by consolidating managerial roles in the district, which have increased even as student enrollment has declined, according to a recent report by UESF. Since the 2009–10 school year, the district has added more than 160 managerial-level administrative positions, the report shows.

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“SFUSD has spent millions on new upper management positions, even as enrollment declined,” the report reads. “Now, upper management, which has mismanaged SFUSD’s finances for decades, is claiming SFUSD needs to make cuts to critical services at high-needs school sites and even threatening school closures.”

Curiel also pointed out financial mismanagement around the district’s botched computer payroll system, which blocked teachers from receiving pay for months.

“They wasted $30 million on a software program that failed to even pay the educators that they employ. So they’re wasting funds there,” Curiel said.

San Francisco Superintendent Matt Wayne told KQED that “the status quo is not working for the district.”

“Rather than figuring out how to use our resources to just try to maintain the status quo, we want to imagine a new future for the San Francisco Unified School District,” Wayne added.

The district plans to provide feedback opportunities and consult with the community throughout an eight-month research process. That will include doing an “equity audit” to review how school closures might disproportionately affect different communities.

Many teachers and families are nonetheless worried about what school closures could mean for them.

Erin Mapes, a teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann elementary in the Mission District, said she’s worried that families with fewer resources will bear the brunt of school closures and the impacts that follow.

“There’s a lot of distrust between the staff, teachers and the central office right now,” Mapes told KQED.

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