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After state-imposed cuts, what’s in next year’s school budget?

A school building is visible from a sidewalk outside.
Students are arriving to Everett Middle School in San Francisco, on Thursday May 26, 2022. | Source: Jana Ašenbrennerová for The Standard

In a typical duty-turned-milestone, the Board of Education voted on Tuesday to approve the upcoming school year’s budget—one closely watched by the state.

This unusually long budgeting process began with a warning issued by state education officials last September.

They cautioned that San Francisco Unified School District was at risk of failing to pay its bills and that the state would make cuts for them if it didn’t take prescribed measures. 

District officials embarked on an uneasy journey guided by a state-appointed fiscal expert to balance its $125 million deficit. This set off demoralizing layoff notices and pleas from parents and the teacher’s union to keep cuts away from the classroom.

Despite delivering plans for a balanced budget in December with promises of increased state funding, the district still expects a structural deficit in 2023.

So what’s on the chopping block?

Under its December plan, the district would cut $50 million from individual schools, but this was reduced to $15 million after the state projected more favorable education funding. SFUSD must restrict about one-third of its $1.15 billion operating budget to specific items based on funding sources, according to district documents.

About 71% of its unrestricted general fund budget will go toward direct services, which will be cut by $3.9 million. Indirect services will lose $12.6 million, operations $12.4 million, and administration by $5.1 million. 

The budget per pupil has decreased from 2021-22 to 2022-23, from $7,517 to $7,147 per pupil. The funding for middle and high school students has decreased more than other school types.

Though SFUSD sent out about 400 notices, only 20 certificated staff layoffs were approved in May. A torrent of vacancies meant closing 166 positions and reassigning staff depending on their credentials and experience.

Less Kids, Less Money 

Education funding is incredibly complex, more so for a district in San Francisco, which is both a city and county. It also receives special supplemental funding from local taxpayers. 

But at the end of the day, resources are driven by enrollment and average daily attendance—both of which have steadily declined for SFUSD and most other school districts. Staff projected that enrollment would decline to 48,284 for the upcoming school year, 47,287 in 2023-2024, and 46,738 for the 2024-2025 school year. 

To add to the complexity, SFUSD estimates it may gain between $21 million and $120 million from the upcoming state budget approved by July. But this comes after SFUSD must approve its budget, a yearly puzzle for school districts.

And while instinct may suggest refinancing after the state finalizes details district budget leaders have recommended waiting until the fall to determine how to use it in the years ahead. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the vote outcome.

Maryann Jones Thompson contributed additional reporting for this story.