San Francisco Schools Face Condition, Funding Crisis

The condition of dozens of schools changed dramatically in a short period, putting the district in a tough spot to find the funding to address deferred maintenance.   March 13, 2023

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor 

Facility conditions can change quickly, given the destruction that weather and wear can inflict on structures and components. That said, the dramatic shift in facility condition issues facing the San Francisco Unified School district at first was puzzling.  

The condition of dozens of schools changed drastically in a short period, according to The San Franscisco Standard. In 2022, a building inspection survey by Vanderweil Facility Advisors found that many of facilities previously rated “above average” on school accountability report cards (SARCs) were suddenly listed as being in “poor” or “fair” condition — and not just a handful, either. 

The district-hired inspector who previously evaluated the schools until 2021 did so on a truncated timeline, calling into question accuracy of district-mandated inspection reports and, more critically, putting the district in a tough spot to find the funding to address deferred maintenance in its schools. 

The Vanderweil survey revealed that, contrary to previous inspection findings, San Francisco’s public schools are in dire need of maintenance and modernization to fix issues like faulty HVAC systems and falling ceilings. District officials said that, compared with previous inspections such as the School Accountability Report Cards surveys, the Vanderweil facilities survey was far more comprehensive.   

“[Vanderweil] has a team of people who specialize in evaluating systems full-time,” said SFUSD Head of Facilities Dawn Kamalanathan. 

Structural and maintenance issues have grown so dire that the district estimated a comprehensive deferred maintenance program would cost at least $1.7 billion. SFUSD wants to get ahead of its deferred maintenance issues, and the district might ask San Francisco voters to approve a $1 billion bond in 2023 or 2024. 

“We’ve been bond-rich and maintenance-poor,” Kamalanathan said. “Without maintenance dollars to keep this up, you will see this deterioration. Underinvestment in capital structure is a statewide, if not national, issue.” 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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