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Underenrollment at Bayview schools causes ‘ripple effect’ across SF

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A mother walks her daughter class on the first day of school at Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco’s Bayview District. (Jessica Christian/2014 S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco Unified School District is hoping to make schools in the Bayview more enticing to alleviate high demand at other schools throughout The City, where student enrollment is expected to swell in the coming years, a district official said Wednesday.

The Bayview, a historically black neighborhood, is home to more elementary school-age students than any other neighborhood in The City and, combined with the Mission and Excelsior, houses a quarter of all students in the district.

But its schools have suffered from declining enrollment for the past two decades. Out of the 6,000 students who live in the Bayview, more than 70 percent choose to attend school outside of their neighborhood, Orla O’Keeffe, SFUSD’s executive director for policy and operations, said during a panel Wednesday on the district’s development plans and student enrollment at the urban think tank SPUR.

“As long as there is outmigration, it has a ripple effect throughout The City,” O’Keeffe said. “In areas of The City where other families might live, those schools may be filled and will continue to be filled with high demand until the demand and desire for those schools in the Bayview shifts.”

O’Keeffe was speaking alongside incoming Interim Superintendent Myong Leigh and Board of Education Commissioner Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell.

“Our policies and practices over the years have unintentionally contributed to racially isolated and underenrolled schools in the Bayview, which is actually one of our most densely populated and diverse neighborhoods,” O’Keeffe said.

The latest student enrollment projections from November 2015 show that, despite the current low enrollment at Bayview schools, the school district will run out of space for students in its elementary and high schools by 2025.

As a result, the SFUSD is considering building new schools in the Bayview and Mission Bay. In November, the district will ask voters to approve a $744 million facilities bond that will contribute some $100 million toward at least one new school.

Student enrollment declined from 1994 until 2008, when enrollment began to grow, according to the school district.

“The increase that we’ve seen in elementary schools in particular, which is where we’ve seen the most robust enrollment, was a lot higher than we anticipated,” Mendoza-Mcdonnell said of the enrollment boost the district has already experienced.

Enrollment reached about 57,000 students in 2015 and is projected to grow to some 63,000 by 2025. Elementary schools will need about 900 more seats to accommodate those students, and high schools need a little more than 100 seats.

Leigh, who is still a deputy superintendent until Superintendent Richard Carranza leaves for a new job in Texas in mid-September, said that the district is caught in a “perfect storm.”

The school district will need to hire more teachers to staff new schools to meet projected enrollment growth, but is currently experiencing a teacher shortage.

High rents in San Francisco — in part driven by the developments that are also contributing to the enrollment boom — are making it more difficult for teachers to make rent despite salary increases from the district.

“We’re trying to make up ground, but the ground is shifting beneath us,” Leigh said.

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