Is SFUSD Scapegoating Special Education?

Earlier this month the San Francisco Unified School District issued a Budget Update in which it forecasts a $32 million deficit for the current fiscal year (which ends June 30) and claims that deficit is caused principally by an unexpected $25 million increase in special education costs. Maybe that’s true but several items are curious:

  • The only budget updated is the “Unrestricted General Fund” (UGF):
  • UGF is just 60 percent of total SFUSD spending that, including Restricted Funds and the County Office Of Education, exceeds $1 billion:
  • Of that total, $159 million was budgeted for special education:
  • Documents filed elsewhere show that UGF makes contributions to other funds — including to the County Office for Special Education:
  • And that there are transfers between the District and County and between Restricted and Unrestricted Funds:
  • A San Francisco Chronicle article about the deficit notes that “an additional 550 special ed students joined the district in 2018,” which is before the 2019–20 budget; ie, before enactment of the budget that SFUSD now claims will have a deficit largely because of unexpected spending on special education.
  • The same article includes a statement by the president of the San Francisco Board of Education also scapegoating taxpayers (“California refuses to fund schools at an appropriate rate”) even though he must know that California enacted a 30 percent income tax rate increase in 2012 to boost funding for schools and that SFUSD’s revenues have grown more than 50 percent since then:
  • Neither the update nor the Board President make any reference to what officials know is the largest driver of cost changes at SFUSD: spending on post-employment costs (pensions and post-retirement subsidies) that have more than doubled since the 2012 tax increase:

Nearly 60,000 children attend SFUSD, including 7,400 requiring special education. For one of the most critical services in their lives they are completely dependent upon good — and honest — governance by public officials.

SFUSD should not scapegoat special education or taxpayers or make cuts affecting kids or teachers for a deficit that may not exist and even if it does exist may be caused by other factors (including, as described here, more than $30 million of unnecessary post-employment subsidies). SFUSD must divulge the whole truth.

Govern For California supports lawmakers who legislate in the general interest.

Originally appeared on Medium, 1/23/20.