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San Francisco Unified School District historic bond proposal falls short in addressing school infrastructure needs

San Francisco, California – Officials of the San Francisco Unified School District acknowledge that the $790 million bond measure slated for the Nov. 5 ballot is still insufficient to renovate the district’s aging infrastructure. Originally, they aimed to propose a $1 billion bond for March, but the board of education pulled back. They recognized that past bond issues needed addressing before they could move forward with the city’s largest public school bond in history.

Despite the postponement, the commissioners concur that these funds are crucial to repairing district facilities amid declining student numbers and looming school closures.

SFUSD officials acknowledge that the $790 million bond measure slated for the Nov. 5 ballot is still insufficient to renovate the district's aging infrastructure

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“SFUSD’s commitment to educational excellence must be supported by well-functioning schools,” Board of Education President Lainie Motamedi said in a statement. “SFUSD’s bond program is absolutely essential to fund the critical improvements needed to provide quality education and safe learning environments.”

Last year, the board adopted a facilities master plan guiding where the 2024 bond funds would be allocated. It emphasizes mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and air ventilation improvements across all schools. The plan particularly highlights Rooftop Elementary and Middle School’s Mayeda campus, Mission High School, Balboa High School, Everett Middle School, and George Moscone Elementary School as top priorities for upgrades, projects that were previously deferred from a 2016 bond. District officials assure that the measure will not increase tax rates.

“The bond program is a responsible steward of public funds and remains committed to transforming the state of our school facilities without increasing taxes,” Motamedi said.

SFUSD officials acknowledge that the $790 million bond measure slated for the Nov. 5 ballot is still insufficient to renovate the district's aging infrastructure

To pass, the bond will require 55% voter approval. Superintendent Matt Wayne emphasized that this proposal “will allow [the district] to invest in the places that need it most and need it now.” However, district officials acknowledged that the $790 million, the largest bond in SFUSD’s history, remains inadequate.

Karen Sullivan, the Executive Director of Capital Planning, estimated a staggering $6 billion would be necessary to restore all schools. At an April board meeting, Wayne stated that the district has “way more needs than we’ll address in one bond.” They refrained from proposing a larger bond because district leaders must “demonstrate to the community [their] ability to manage resources well,” Wayne explained.

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“The bond program has been managed very well, but the confidence in the district’s ability is one we need to restore,” he said.

Parents have sharply criticized the district for delaying critical repairs, even after a $744 million bond was approved in 2016. At Buena Vista Horace Mann, students have faced lead contamination in plumbing, rodents, and a gas leak, prompting parents to file a Williams Complaint over hazardous learning conditions. SFUSD allocated $40 million for repairs in 2021, and district officials stated renovations will begin next year.

The San Francisco Unified School District had earmarked $100 million of the $744 million bond to build an arts center at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. However, pandemic-related expenses diverted those funds, delaying repairs and construction. Despite these setbacks, district officials remain optimistic that the 2024 bond will secure voter support, just as 79% approved the 2016 bond.

“SFUSD’s debt burden and tax rates are relatively low when compared to other large school districts in the state. SFUSD spends down bonds efficiently and general obligation bond tax rates have always been lower than what was presented to voters in the bond measure at election time,” district spokesperson Laura Dudnick said in a statement.

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Fitch Ratings, a top national credit rating agency, changed SFUSD’s issuer rating from negative to stable in January. The agency highlighted SFUSD’s efforts to address budgetary errors that resulted in a structural imbalance, requiring intervention from the California Department of Education after years of significant projected deficits. The district will propose the $790 million bond resolution at the May 14 Board of Education meeting.

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