San Francisco school board battle is on

The race for San Francisco school board may just be getting underway, but several candidates are eyeing the possibility of closing schools or charging for bus service to save the district money if the state’s economy worsens.

Four of seven seats on the board are up forgrabs this November. Incumbents Eric Mar and Mark Sanchez intend to run for the Board of Supervisors, leaving room for at least two new faces, while Jill Wynns and Norman Yee aim to hang on to their seats.

San Francisco Unified School District leaders patched a projected $40 million budget hole in 2008-09 with $19 million from The City’s rainy-day fund and another $6 million from voter-approved Proposition H funds.

But rainy-day funds likely won’t be available two years in a row. Current three-year budget projections assume the California economy won’t get significantly worse, according to SFUSD data.

With declining enrollment, “there are a lot of schools that are under-enrolled,” said candidate Rachel Norton, a member of the district’s citizens advisory committee on special education.

If the economy does get worse, she said, the board may need to establish criteria for closing schools — and then discuss closing or merging schools to save money.

“We have agreed that we’re going to talk about closing schools,” Wynns said. “It’s a cost-saving thing.”

One way to make money could be to lease more of the district’s vacant real estate — at higher prices — or even sell unused campuses, said candidate Sandra Fewer, a parent organizer for Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth.

Other candidates hope to take a hard look at the district’s bus system, which currently costs more than $5 million per year.

“We shouldn’t have a free bus service. We can afford to pay,” said candidate Emily Murase, executive director of the Department on the Status of Women.

While Wynns lauded district leaders for creating a balanced three-year outlook, crafted through position cuts and careful use of reserves, “it is dependent on five or six things falling into place,” she said.

Candidates in the race for San Francisco’s Board of Education will haveuntil Aug. 8 to declare their candidacy. The election is Nov. 4.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

CLARIFICATION: In The Examiner's article on the upcoming race for San Francisco Board of Education (“School Board Battle is On,” July 24, 2008), one of Emily Murase's comments was missing. Although Murase supports a fee for school-bus service, she would only intend the fee to apply to transportation to after-school programs, and only on a sliding scale.

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