Public comment once again dominated the Board of Education on Tuesday, as teachers, students and other community members voiced concerns over the impact of class cuts and anger with ongoing payroll glitches.
There was, however, some good news for teachers facing layoffs. Plus, the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee presented recommendations and the board moved to officially recognize a number of previously unrecognized holidays.
Earlier this year, San Francisco Unified School District approved layoffs equating to 198 educators and 113 staff in an effort to offset a $125 million deficit. But after consolidations, resignations and other vacancies, that number has been whittled down to just 27 total layoffs, which commissioners approved Tuesday.
Four are teachers with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and one is a Japanese teacher. Most of the remaining administrative positions are guaranteed to be relocated within the district.
The district committed to closing 166 teaching positions, according to SFUSD Chief Human Resources Officer Kristin Bijur, most of which happened through departures. There are 195 current classroom vacancies and 123 consolidated teachers, according to a staff presentation.
“We’re relieved,” said United Educators of San Francisco Cassondra Curiel. “We’ve been saying since November that these discussions around layoffs were not necessary.”
Not everyone is celebrating just yet. Several educators showed up at public comment to protest what’s known as a non-reelection, which is similar to a layoff but for probationary teachers. Chinese-speaking educators also said that, without proper information about their contractual rights at their disposal, they were left out of the petition process, which staff apologized for during the meeting. And United Administrators of San Francisco contested the layoffs of administrators, some of whom are being rehired for the same positions but under a different code.
Curiel also expressed worry that more educators may resign at the end of the year, which could be more pronounced after a year of educators reporting intense burnout.
The Independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee has been intently overseeing 2016’s $744 million bond measure to fund facility upgrades, citing some major concerns around transparency.
On Tuesday, the body presented recommendations: To provide timely information on a regular basis with quarterly and annual reports, annual independent audits, easily digestible information and regular CBOC presentations to the full board.
These steps are necessary to build public confidence for the district’s next bond, CBOC members said. Last month, staff said they would delay plans by one year to place a new bond measure on the November ballot as previously scheduled.
One major hang-up remains: How much SFUSD pulled from bond funds to pay for legal fees contesting the covering of controversial murals at George Washington High School, which must be seismically retrofitted.
“Until that happens, there is not going to be an approval of the 2021 audit,” said Rex Ridgeway, interim CBOC chair. “It’s a major impasse. In 2023 [voters] have to say yes, let’s get them to say yes.”
SFUSD Chief General Counsel Danielle Houck responded that the amount paid in legal fees being made public could tip off its strategy to legal opponents and put its case under appeals at risk. The number may be known after the case is over, should anyone request that information.
“There are other interesting and notable pieces of artwork at George Washington High School, all of which we have had to carefully consider as we deliver that bond project,” said Dawn Kamalanathan, SFUSD chief facilities officer. “We have already advised CBOC that these are eligible expenditures.”
Commissioner Ann Hsu, who served as CBOC chair until Mayor London Breed tapped her for the school board, urged better transparency and communication with the body.
Commissioners voted to recognize Juneteenth Independence Day, an increasingly popular holiday honoring the end of slavery after the Civil War. It would also designate June 19, starting in 2022, as a local holiday.
The resolution does not specify if it’s a paid holiday, which is not currently the case for California. Staff did not identify a material budget impact in any case.
And after weeks of urging at public comment, a resolution to observe Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, a holy day of remembrance, was placed on the agenda for introduction. Muslim students, parents and SFUSD graduates have attested to the hardships of falling behind in school to celebrate the holidays with their families, and lack of understanding from school officials.
The resolution will go through committee and be up for approval at another Board of Education meeting.
“It’s been long overdue,” said Sharif Zakout, an organizer at Arab Resource and Organizing Center and San Francisco native. “It’s really important for our families that SF Unified recognized Eid. We want to continue this legacy of uplifting our communities.”
The Board of Education will hold two more committee meetings this week; a budget meeting where there will be an update on the finicky payroll system EMPowerSF, and a labor relations meeting discussing staffing for the 2022-23 school year.