Teachers and supporters block traffic on Franklin Street as they rally to protest potential education cuts outside the San Francisco Unified School District office before a meeting of the Board of Education on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Educators warn of possible strike after district calls for budget cuts, layoffs

SFUSD faces up to $31.8 million shortfall in current school year

San Francisco Unified School District staff and families took over the school board meeting Tuesday over impending budget cuts and layoffs, warning that an educator strike could be in the cards.

More than a hundred educators and families of students demanded that no cuts be made to SFUSD schools, which are facing up to a $31.8 million shortfall for the current school year. That shortfall is expected to double by the 2020-2021 school year, according to district spokesperson Laura Dudnick.

The nearly hour-long takeover of the Board of Education meeting, which delayed the scheduled 6 p.m. start, followed a raucous rally outside the district office on Franklin Street. Protesters blocked Franklin at Fulton Street before moving inside, taking over commissioner seats and chanting slogans like “Money is there, we’re not going anywhere” and “Strike ready! Strike ready!”

“If we have to shut schools down for a day…,” said teacher Charmaine Shuford to cheers. “We are so prepared.”

In an email sent to district staff last week, Superintendent Vincent Matthews alerted educators of a budget shortfall and said that staff layoffs were likely this year. It’s the first warning of possible job losses for educators since 2012.

“We’ve reached the point where we’ve depleted our reserves and, therefore, need to make more drastic cuts,” Matthews wrote. “We are facing the reality that there will need to be some employee layoffs this year.”

School sites, which account for two-thirds of the budget, will be reduced by $10 million while central office services, which make up the other third of the budget, will see a $16 million reduction, Matthews said. Notices for certain staff are required to go out by March 15, and 60 days before the end of the school year for others.

The district had an operating budget of $880 million in 2019 but rising costs, from supporting students with disabilities and from increased teacher pay and benefits, contributed to a shortfall. Commissioner Alison Collins said, as a former teacher who once received pink slips every year before getting cyclically hired and laid off, she felt the layoff threat personally. The district and school board has not determined how many educators would receive such a notice.

“It’s hugely destabilizing,” Collins said. “If we had our way, we would be investing more.”

SFUSD is awaiting additional funding in the form of Proposition G, a parcel tax voters passed in 2018 to boost teacher pay. It was expected to generate $50 million but is pending due to a lawsuit. A ruling in San Francisco Superior Court is scheduled for Thursday.

Commissioner Gabriela López and Board of Education colleagues are also working to put a $200 million budget set-aside for SFUSD on the November ballot.

In the meantime, educators like paraeducator Robert Romano are worried about not having a job while already feeling strained due to unfilled vacant positions. The layoff warning comes days after students at Aptos Middle School called for more emotional and behavioral support on campus.

“We’re just running on bare bones as it is,” said Megan Caluzo, a district-wide behavioral specialist. “Whatever you cut, don’t let it be people doing work in the schools.”

Parents are also worried about what this means for their children attending public schools.

“That impacts the kids if they cut [the budget],” said Valerio Perez, who has three kids in the district. “The programs the school has are not enough for students’ growth. The money’s there, where’s it going?”

The board discussed the shortfall in closed session.

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