School Board members Matt Alexander and Mark Sanchez hope to increase the percentage of San Francisco Unified School District spending focused on the classroom. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

School Board members Matt Alexander and Mark Sanchez hope to increase the percentage of San Francisco Unified School District spending focused on the classroom. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

School district could increase portion of budget dedicated to classrooms

School board members will introduce a resolution on Tuesday to increase the proportion of the San Francisco Unified School District’s budget focused on classroom spending.

SFUSD ranks last in California’s largest 10 districts when it comes to the percentage spent on classroom instruction, at least as of the 2018-2019 school year. Sacramento, Long Beach and Riverside’s school districts each spend 66 percent of their budget on classrooms while San Francisco spends 54 percent, below Fresno and Los Angeles at 59 percent, according to the resolution.

The resolution, put forward by school board members Matt Alexander and Mark Sanchez, would set a new policy goal to spend at least 57 percent of SFUSD’s general fund on instruction for the 2021-2022 budget, then 62 percent and 67 percent the following two academic years.

“The idea isn’t to just have a blunt instrument, the idea is to have measures and policy goals that can guide our decision-making,” Alexander said. “It may be that the board decides, for whatever reason, we can’t meet these goals, but we want the option on the table.”

SFUSD is also using a new budget approach, called zero-based budgeting, for the upcoming school year. Instead of basing funding on the previous year’s funding levels, the method starts from zero and builds up from there.

The changes come as the district faces a potential $18.5 million deficit for the 2021-2022 school year and $37.6 million deficit for the following year, according to budget projections presented last week. That’s down from an initial projected $75.4 million deficit for the 2021-2022 school year, which has been greatly improved by local, state, and federal aid that could increase further in the coming months as Congress debates another stimulus package.

The latest budget numbers include an estimated $40 million in cost increases due to in-person costs and $7.5 million for distance learning, as well as an estimated $39 million in learning recovery costs.

“There’s a number of moving pieces, but it’s clear we’re still going to have a deficit,” Alexander said. “As we make cuts, we want to make sure we preserve classroom instruction. It might not mean increasing classroom instruction, it might not mean cutting it.”

More up-to-date numbers on what percentage SFUSD spends on instruction will likely come as the resolution goes through the committee process.

Sanchez and Alexander will introduce another resolution on Tuesday urging Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Board of Education to postpone standardized testing under the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium for the current school year due to difficult logistics presented by distance learning.

The school board on Tuesday will also vote to permanently end Lowell High School’s merit-based admissions and make other reforms targeted at the school’s culture after a racist incident that occurred last month, which led to a rally on Friday.

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