San Francisco school board discusses future school closures

The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education considered on Tuesday night the criteria and timeline it will use to decide which schools will close next year. 

Several dozen emotional students and parents filled the boardroom on Tuesday night, sharing their concerns, each of them worried about their schools being closed.

"I feel like schools and teachers and our kids are getting shortchanged," said Rajni Banthia, the mother of ose Ortega Elementary School student. "The district is going to cut many things in order to balance their budget. Why are they starting with schools?"

The district is facing a looming budget deficit, by one estimate, as much as $420 million in the next two years if it doesn't change the way it spends now.  

SFUSD has 132 schools district-wide serving more than 49,500 students. That's about 4,000 fewer students than it had in 2017. 

The district expects to lose another 4,000 kids in the next decade.

"We know the district needs to right-size the ship. We know the district has not made the hard decisions it's needed to make for the past decade,"  said Meredith Dodson, Exec. Dir. of the non-profit organization, SF Parent Action. " So that band-aid they're ripping off now is that much bigger and hurts that much more."

The board will consider each school’s scores on equity, excellence, and effective use of resources.

"We are doing this not just to solve a budget problem, but to be able to use our resources to follow through on our commitments," said superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne, who added some of the criteria the board could set to determine whether to close or merge a school could include:

  • School access
  • Historical inequities
  • Academic performance
  • Enrollment
  • Building condition
  • Teacher turnover

"When we have fewer classrooms, we’ll have a much better chance of making sure every student has access to a qualified teacher who can deliver rigorous academic content in the language of the program and in English," said Wayne.

The board will not decide which schools tonight, only the guidelines for "scoring" or ranking schools for possible closure. Even so, the thought of any school closure is worrisome for parents.

"That would be really stressful," said one parent of a 2nd grader at Lincoln Elementary. "She's been going to her school since kindergarten."

Another parent told KTVU, "I think everybody's kind of suffering. Teachers, principals, everyone's having a hard time."

Dodson said her advocacy organization wants to make sure the decisions about closures are "kid-centered" and they've been reaching out to other parent organizations across the Bay.

"We've been talking with a parent group over in Oakland to learn how they responded when their district was closing schools a few years ago," Dodson said. 

One idea is to offer some students from shuttered schools an "opportunity ticket" elsewhere.

"If there's a kid from a family or community that's been historically underserved by the district that has their school closed. Can the district then guarantee they have a spot at any other school of their choice within the district?"

A list of possible schools that could close will be revealed September 18, with the board voting on those closures on December 10. 

Those changes would go into effect in the fall of 2025.