SF school board slashes $90 million from budget to avoid state takeover

We learned back in October that the worst school board in the country was in danger of being taken over by the state of California because it faced a huge budget deficit and had no plans for dealing with it. The state sent a “fiscal consultant” with an ultimatum: Either we cut the budget or at some point soon, “your governing authority is set aside.” The board did come up with a plan to cut $125 million from the budget to avoid that outcome and last night they finally voted to cut $90 million.

San Francisco’s Board of Education passed a balanced budget plan late Tuesday night, just hours ahead of a deadline that could have forced the state to take over the district’s finances.

The vote was 6-1 in favor of the staff’s recommended plan to address a projected $125 million budget shortfall in the 2022-23 fiscal year, caused in part by a precipitous drop in enrollment.

If you’re wondering who the lone vote was against fiscal sanity, that would be school board president Gabriela Lopez.

Board President Gabriela López, who was the lone vote of opposition, expressed anger and frustration at staff for not addressing board concerns or the needs of schools sites, saying that she has been “basically cornered into accepting a proposal.”

Alexander and others on the board also questioned why staff had not been working on prioritizing classrooms months ago.

Yet, over the past year, the school board focused efforts on a wide range of issues that increased spending and occupied staff time, including an effort to rename 44 school sites, which the board approved and rescinded. Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh, who oversees the district’s budgeting process, spent months staffing the renaming committee appointed by the board.

Staff also noted that they have presented options and proposals to the board since September on the budget.

In addition, state officials notified the board when appointing the fiscal expert that the board ignored the urgency of the budget shortfall a year ago and chose to take no action.

When you spend all your time worrying about renaming schools, covering up murals and keeping schools closed indefinitely instead of dealing with a looming budget crisis, this is what happens. In fact, the state’s financial expert pointed out that since 2014 the city has gone from about 57,000 students down to around 49,000 this year. Meanwhile the district’s budget and number of teachers hasn’t changed until last night.

“You went from 57,000 to 50,000 students That’s a 14% loss of students,” said Elliott Duchon, the state-appointed financial expert who was asked to evaluate the balanced budget proposals, “It will be a long-term process so long as you get through the short-term hemorrhaging.”

There was one board member who offered an alternative plan to cut the budget. Matt Alexander argued the bulk of the cuts should come from administration rather than classrooms. “We can cut $50 million from schools no problem and 350 educators no problem and we can’t cut a single chief? That’s a disturbing message,” he said. In the end he withdrew his proposal when the superintendent agreed adjustments could be made to the plan before it gets implemented next summer. That means some reduction of administrators as opposed to teachers or other staff could still happen.

Meanwhile, the recall of three members of the board is still happening. Hopefully what happened last night will continue to reinforce that these board members are not up to the job.

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