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SFUSD Grapples With Teacher Shortage, Strained Fiscal Outlook

  • 469 SFUSD teachers were granted medical waivers to continue teaching from home, further complicating a return to in-person learning for the district's more than 50,000 students

  • SFUSD is hiring more substitute teachers and paraeducators to help supervise in-person learning

  • Meanwhile, a recent audit of SFUSD showed a "heavily strained" fiscal outlook marked by dwindling reserves, declining enrollment and long-term liabilities

  • The embattled Board of Education is set to vote on a set of governance and conduct standards, set forth by Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews as a condition of continued service

As young students return to in-person instruction, San Francisco public schools are facing a challenge: Not enough teachers to work with students on-site.

At a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said that 750 staffers had requested a medical exemption, of which 469 were approved. Those exemptions grant teachers the option of continuing to teach remotely, even if students have returned to the classroom. The district employs about 2,800 teachers, and called in an additional 2,085 substitutes and paraeducators for this school year. All are permitted to request distance teaching if they believe in-person work presents a medical risk.

That further complicates a return to in-person learning that many families argue is long overdue. In lieu of an on-site teacher, students may continue learning on Zoom in their classrooms alongside a supervising substitute teachera practice derisively dubbed 'Zoom in a Room' by parents and students eager for school to resume as normal. The district currently has no clear timeline for middle and high school students, and some younger students are attending class part-time depending on the school.

In the meantime, SFUSD said in late March that it is working to recruit substitute teachers and paraeducators. Noting that there "may be a shortage of staff able to work in-person," the district published a call-out for substitute educators to assist with the remainder of this year. The Board of Education

Separately, the school board is set to vote on an unusual resolution on Thursday that dictates conduct and governance standards for the embattled board.

Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews, who had earlier announced his retirement, agreed to continue on with the district for another year, with conditions: Under an amended contract with Matthews, the school board follow the rules and maintain a strict focus on reopening students, rather than unrelated programs and initiatives. The agreement with the board also dictates, among other things, that members must "act with dignity" and a high standard of ethics.

Faauuga Moliga was elected as the board's vice president, replacing Alison Collins, who was stripped of her title following a discovery of offensive tweets about Asian students and parents. Collins later sued the school district purporting that the penalty violated her civil rights.

In addition to reactivating in-person instruction and addressing student learning loss, the board is also required to balance a budget that includes a long-term structural deficit.

An audit of SFUSD, which was published this week, described the district's fiscal outlook as "heavily strained" due to dwindling reserve funds, pension obligations and other long-term liabilities.

The audit was based on the district's 2019-2020 fiscal performance, but the report noted that declining enrollment presents an additional risk for the district.

In October 2020, SFUSD reported an enrollment decline of 1,039 students. For the upcoming year, kindergarten applications declined by roughly 10%.


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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