San Francisco's board of education has been beset with challenges during the pandemic - an upcoming recall election for three members, one board member who filed then dismissed a lawsuit against the district itself, and then there was the plan to rename schools that was criticized across the country.
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Now, another difficult moment as the district deals with a $125 million shortfall for next year, and as a result, 10% in spending cuts to it's $1.2 billion annual budget.
"Schools would experience change, this would result in reductions at school sites," said SFUSD Executive Director of Budget Services, Anne Marie Gordon.
On Tuesday District budget directors laid out a plan that involves cuts to:
- Special education staffing
- Staffing for multilingual programs
- Math class size reduction
- Peer resources
- Enhanced social emotional supports
SFUSD families and staff, like 23-year special education teacher, Miss Abrams, expressed grave concern about the proposed changes.
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"Special education teachers are already overworked and overburdened by the school district, these cuts will negatively affect our most vulnerable students while driving even more qualified special education teachers away from our district."
The school board must approve a fiscal recovery plan by Dec. 15 to avoid a state takeover. In the meantime, the state appointed fiscal expert, Elliott Duchon, to oversee the process.
"The next steps become more severe if CDE is not satisfied with the level of cooperation with the fiscal expert or the district's not making suitable progress," said Duchon, who said that could include, "hiring freezes for certain positions and freezing non-essential expenditures."
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The school district points to years of declining enrollment, exacerbated during the pandemic, for much of it's financial shortfall, but Stanford public policy professor and pension expert, Joe Nation says there's a bigger problem.
"There are over 1,000 school districts in California and over 1,000 school districts have a problem," said Nation, who explained that pension costs and the lack of pension reform are to blame.
"Generally, every school district today is paying about double, maybe a little more than double what it paid for pensions about six to eight years or so ago," Nation said and continued, "it's really driven by this pension crisis more than anything else."
There will be several more school board meetings in the coming weeks to work through a final plan for the state.