San Francisco Unified latest public school district to face closures over falling enrollment

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is set to close some of its schools due to declining enrollment leading to large budget deficits, reported local CBS News Bay Area.

Last year…

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is set to close some of its schools due to declining enrollment leading to large budget deficits, reported local CBS News Bay Area.

Last year SFUSD said it faced a $421 million budget deficit with the loss of 10,000 students.

CBS said the district is being careful not to call the shutdowns “closures,” but instead is referring to the process as “resource alignment.”

SFUSD joins a lengthy list of districts, including Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, Wichita and San Antonio, which are closing some public schools as enrollment declines in a decades-long trend.  

“Enrollment declines are everywhere,” Sofoklis Goulas, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The 74 about the nationwide trend.  

SFUSD Superintendent Matt Wayne outlined the plan to shutdown schools over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle reports

The district has lost nearly 10,000 students in recent years and that trend is continuing, Wayne said. This year student enrollment is 49,500, down from 53,000 in 2015. By 2032, the number is expected to drop to 44,000. 

“We feel like in order to create the schools our students deserve and our families expect we need to have fewer schools,” Wayne told the Chronicle in an exclusive interview. “I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone.” 

With fewer schools, more resources can be devoted to teaching students, he said.  

“We want supportive learning environments for each and every student, in each and every school, each and every day,” he said. “The reality is, people are not satisfied with the status quo in San Francisco, so rather than just continuing to figure out how to maintain the status quo, we want to say, ‘Look, we need to have real conversation about how we use our resources to create a new school portfolio that better serves our community.’” 

Prior to the new year, Wayne warned that the school district wouldn’t able to meet its financial obligations over the next three years if the district didn’t do something. 

However, the teachers’ union is pushing for more staff and to keep schools open, in spite of lower-than-average enrollment for the state. 

“The typical California school district has 400-700 students per elementary school,” reported the Chronicle in Dec. 2023. “In San Francisco, the average elementary school enrollment is 341, the lowest among all major California school districts.”  

The Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School, a school for Chinese-speaking, newly-arrived immigrant students, for example, had just 11 students at the beginning of the new school year.  

Meanwhile, the Chronicle said that there is no reported evidence that such small school size actually helps student performance.  

However, the San Francisco teachers’ union, the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), is pushing to keep all the schools open, saying the problem is that the district has too many managers. 

“As SFUSD attempts to address its budgetary crisis and right the wrongs of historical 

mismanagement, UESF expects the district to carry out its fiscal restructuring in a way that 

is respectful to students, families and communities,” said a recent report by UESF. 

The union called for cuts at the central office instead of “making painful, high-impact cuts to school sites.” 

The Chronicle said that Wayne has prepared the district for some of the same theatrics that happened in nearby Oakland, when that district talked about closing schools, “which included protests, a hunger strike, threats [and] walkouts.”  

“We want to do this in a way that’s as respectful and sets us up for success as much as possible,” he said. “It’s recognizing we need to handle this with real care and transparency.”