One of the many things I am especially grateful for this year is that the voters of San Francisco keep showing up to support public schools.
In this most recent election, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition J, which will allow San Francisco Unified School District to keep providing the teacher salary increase that we started paying two years ago. Prop. J was placed on the ballot to replace a tax which was passed by San Francisco voters in 2018 with a lower tax. The 2018 tax passed with a majority, but not a supermajority, and taxpayers have been paying it ever since. However, a lawsuit challenging the majority voter threshold is keeping the money tied up until the case is resolved, so SFUSD hasn’t received the taxpayer money.
With the passage of Prop. J, funds can be spent starting next year regardless of the legal challenge. The new $288 parcel tax will replace the $320 parcel tax approved in 2018. Funds will mostly be used to keep paying for raises for teachers and other educators and also help schools invest in technology.
Voter support for San Francisco’s public schools could not come at a better time. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted our economy. Both The City and the state are seeing significant losses, and the current financial outlook for SFUSD has gone from bad to worse as a result of the pandemic.
Schools were already facing severe funding challenges and struggling to balance budgets prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Those same funding challenges remain, and they are only becoming more severe. The pandemic has brought about millions in new unanticipated costs for SFUSD.
For the first time in many years, SFUSD is facing a negative fund balance, unless expenditures are cut significantly or new revenues materialize. We are looking to identify immediate and ongoing solutions because we know that with ongoing deficits — like SFUSD’s — the sooner there are structural solutions in place, the better.
There are many new safety measures that will have to be in place before we can reopen school buildings, such as implementing smaller class sizes to achieve stable cohorts to limit the spread of the virus, setting up a testing program and adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and increasing student health support and student emotional support services.
If you’d like to help support SFUSD in preparing to return safely to in-person learning when it is possible to do so, SFUSD’s nonprofit fundraising partner Spark* SF Public Schools has set up a Return Safely Fund. Donations will go directly toward helping the district prepare for a safe return to in-person learning.
Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.