The San Francisco Unified School District's expenses are growing as California revenues are slowing. (Courtesy photo)

SF school district expenses grow as state revenues slow

As tax time rapidly approaches, you might be thinking even more than usual about your finances. At the San Francisco Unified School District, budgeting is also a major topic on our minds.

We are going through the annual process of figuring out how to make sure the money we receive to educate children is well purposed to prepare San Francisco’s children for college and careers.

Let me share with you how we determine our annual budget once we know what we have to work with (to the extent we can ever know).

Every year, the SFUSD receives money from the federal, state and county government. Some of the funds are earmarked for specific purposes, such as building maintenance or professional training for teachers, and other funds can be applied to any educational purpose. The vast majority of funds come from the State of California and pay for the people who work in our schools.

Overall, the district’s expenses are growing — teachers and other staff received double-digit salary increases in recent years, and pension contribution costs increased significantly — and state revenues are slowing.

Like a family household, the SFUSD’s expenses have to cover everything from dish detergent to new plumbing.

In budget-speak, money that is applied to the day-to-day operations of schools, and is not designated for specific projects, is called Unrestricted General Fund money. For example, a teacher is usually paid through unrestricted general fund money, whereas voter-approved Bond money to fix school buildings is paid through a restricted category.

Last year, about 70 percent of the district’s Unrestricted General Funds paid for teachers and their classroom supplies. The next largest expenses were for special education programs, building maintenance and custodians, substitute teacher salaries, utility bills and security.

Central Administration money — for school district operations such as supervising principals, hiring personnel and maintaining facilities — amounts to just more than four percent of the SFUSD’s unrestricted budget.

Each school has a unique student population, and we use a process to designate more funds to higher-needs student populations. In the SFUSD, this is called the Weighted Student Formula. This is a certain dollar amount that each student “brings” to a school based on his or her English proficiency, family income and other factors.

Every year, school site councils made up of principals, teachers, parents and even students at secondary schools analyze their school’s needs and the most of effective strategies for serving their students and create a plan for the following school year and a budget for that plan using their budget allocation.

In order to achieve our vision and impact each and every student, we must invest our resources wisely. We are prioritizing investments in our teachers and staff, including increased salaries, and the strategies that are showing positive results for our focal students.

However, our revenues are increasing more slowly than our expenses. The governor’s proposed budget does not adequately fund the long-term effects of rising pension costs and well-deserved salary increases. We need to make cuts to balance next year’s budget. This will mean central office services, such as human resources, technology and enrollment and many others, will be diminished, decreasing response time and available support to school staff and community member requests.

As you can see, it’s just a bit more complicated than coming up with a household budget. Our highly dedicated staff across the district tackles this job every year with a constant eye on educating our students and supporting our staff, regardless of how much money we have from year to year.

For more information about the SFUSD budget, go to

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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