San Francisco School Board made harmful budget choices for students

‘A cruel anti-student austerity plan is the antithesis of what our students and schools need’

By Cassondra Curiel

Special to The Examiner

At a time when our children have never needed their public schools and services more, the San Francisco Board of Education chose to balance its budget on the backs of students. It’s outrageous that the board put unnecessary and harmful budget cuts over students’ needs.

The board voted 6-1 Tuesday night for an anti-student austerity budget balancing plan that will cut direct services to students and negatively impact schools and classrooms. It rejected a much more sensible alternative budget that would have warded off many devastating cuts to school sites by cutting the fat from the district’s top-heavy central office costs and making reasonable and necessary cuts to balance the budget. Despite rejecting the alternative, the board did agree to analyze top management positions for potential cuts as part of an existing revision process that takes place in January and February.

Regardless, the plan for cuts should never have gotten this far. Now we are facing funding losses for student-centered programs like Peer Resources, Avid and JROTC. The proposed school-site budget cuts will hit hardest on full- and part-time positions, such as community school coordinators, nurses, social workers, family liaisons, literacy coaches and teachers, and on class-size reductions in middle school math courses.

Of grave concern is an ambiguous line item in the district plan to decrease (amount not yet determined) special education staffing, which would result in larger caseloads and less support from specialists. Further, 360 full-time employees could be laid off, at a time when the school staffing crisis continues to balloon locally.

But the vote is not the end-all and be-all of this struggle. Educators, families and community members have the power to turn the vote into a cautionary tale to all those who supported making students and schools pay for poor budgeting decisions of the past.

The district is facing two major problems: District staff’s fiscal mismanagement has led to a $125 million deficit. Schools have been historically underfunded, due in part to the consequences of Proposition 13, which caused a shift in support for schools from property taxes to state general funds. California ranks just 39th in the nation in school funding. The state doesn’t contribute anywhere near the 40% share of special education funding it is obligated to send to our district.

The tragedy is that these cuts — including $50 million to schools and another $40 million reduction in support services, operations and administration — aren’t entirely necessary. Additional funding for our public education system is beginning to move in the right direction. The state is proposing a giant infusion of tens of millions of dollars in school funding and other revenue sources. So why penalize San Francisco students and schools now?

Our children have lost so much in the pandemic. So many are struggling and now is the time to invest, not divest, in great public schools with wide-ranging resources and supports to help our kids recover and thrive.

The cruel anti-austerity agenda is the antithesis of what our students and schools need. The funding is there. Educators, in partnership with students, families and community members, showed up strong against cuts to classrooms. While the vote was not in the best interests of our students, we continue to see opportunities to fight for the schools in which our students can thrive.

In the New Year, we will come back stronger in our advocacy and louder in our demands for the schools our students deserve. Let the decision makers be on notice that we will continue the struggle to stop cuts to classrooms. We will continue to fight so that our students thrive, and ensure that their schools can provide the resources they need to feel safe, supported and successful.

Cassondra Curiel is president of United Educators of San Francisco.

Niners face tough road through NFL playoffs. Next stop Green Bay

Kickoff temperature expected to be 13 degrees, and dropping fast

Landscape photos with multiple signifiers at Haines and Thacher Galleries

The pieces in “Ice” and “Elemental Exposures” represent experimentations with the process itself

Saved! Community rallies to rescue City College’s Cantonese classes

‘We need to stop Asian hate and make sure the Chinese community has access to bilingual services’