September 15, 2022
SFUSD welcomed students and families back to school on August 17th, but some classrooms in some schools remain unsettled because of uncertainty in staffing. Ten days after the start of school, SFUSD counts the number of students actually enrolled at each grade in each school in order to make final staffing determinations. When there are fewer students enrolled than expected, SFUSD has a hard choice: fewer students mean less money for the district, which in turn means increasing the budget deficit unless costs can be reduced through reducing staff expenses. This can sometimes result in a process called “classroom consolidations” which is a quite common and regular practice at large, urban districts like SFUSD.
Why can’t SFUSD better match student enrollment and teachers to avoid consolidations?
Consolidations happen because there are unexpectedly fewer students at a school than planned.
Like other large school districts, SFUSD analyzes historic student enrollment data and attempts to make projections of how many students will attend a school in the future. Districts then make teacher classroom assignments based on these projections.
Enrollment projections were never perfect, but they have been even more complicated post-Covid, which saw unprecedented declines in student enrollment not just in SFUSD but throughout California and nationally.
Some students are “no-shows” in the fall (expected to attend SFUSD but perhaps moving out of San Francisco or enrolling in a charter or private school). Other students switch from one SFUSD school to another, getting in through a wait list. Principals and administrators attempt to fill classrooms, knowing that empty student desks will have negative consequences for school site budgets. After students settle into schools in the first few weeks of the school year, SFUSD takes a final enrollment count and shuffles teachers to match enrollment and conform classes to teacher-to-student ratios allowable by the contract with the teachers’ union.
What can I as a parent do if my child’s class is affected by consolidations?
Classroom consolidations don’t just happen in SFUSD, but also in other districts across the country like San Diego, Washington, D.C., and other districts where there is parent choice or lottery system rather than strict geographic attendance areas that dictate school enrollment.
When there are too few students in a classroom or a school site, Districts have a hard choice between two conflicting priorities: 1) being fiscally responsible and not paying a teacher to staff a classroom with many empty seats, and 2) avoiding disruption to students that result from teachers being reassigned and classes being consolidated.
Parents can help diminish the need for fall consolidations by taking action:
- Encourage friends and neighbors with children to enroll in SF public schools! Increased enrollment means no empty seats and no consolidations!
- Support measures to increase funding for, and fiscally responsible management of, public schools.
- Get involved in SFUSD’s elementary school assignment redesign, which might make enrollment projections more accurate and reduce the need to shuffle teachers.
- Listen to your School Site Council and Principal to understand the tradeoffs associated with potential consolidations–no one wants classrooms to be disrupted, but SFUSD must align enrollment with staffing in order to responsibly manage its costs. No one wants SFUSD’s budget deficit to worsen and trigger a California Department of Education takeover.
Written by SF Parent Coalition Policy Team