4th graders at Spreckels Elementary school in University City on April 24, 2023.
Fourth grade students at Spreckels Elementary school in University City on April 24, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

From test scores to chronic absenteeism to discipline rates, education is replete with statistics. Their density can be mind-boggling and make comprehending a behemoth school district like San Diego Unified, the second-largest district in the state, nearly impossible. 

So, here’s a visual tour of some important San Diego Unified statistics and how they interact with each other. 

A Ballooning Budget 

From 2017 to 2022, San Diego Unified’s budget swelled from nearly $1.4 billion to just under $2 billion. That’s a whopping 43.5 percent increase, though when accounting for inflation it’s about 20 percent. To put the district’s 2022 budget into perspective, that’s $200 million more than the city of San Diego’s general fund for the same period.  

The lion’s share of the increase came from a flood of federal money meant to help districts across the country bounce back from the steep learning losses of the pandemic. Those funds expire this year, so 2023 is the last year San Diego Unified can rely on them. 

The evaporation of those funds plays a significant role in the steep deficits the district is projecting in the coming years – nearly $130 million in 2024 and $180 million in 2025. So, what we know for sure is that cuts are coming. What we don’t know is exactly what will end up on the cutting room floor, though district officials have expressed confidence that they won’t have to resort to the layoffs they’ve turned to in past budget crunches. 

Jakob McWhinney / Voice of San Diego

Declining Enrollment 

Like districts across the state and country, San Diego Unified has seen a long-term trend of declining enrollment. Since 2017, the district has lost 13,600 students, a roughly 11 percent decrease in enrollment. The district has explained this trend in several ways but says it’s primarily because families are being priced out of San Diego and birth rates have declined, leaving a smaller pool of school-aged children.  

That trend was supercharged by the pandemic. From the 2019 to 2021 school years, when school was either completely or partially virtual, the district lost nearly 10,000 students. Education officials hoped that when pandemic-era virtual learning ceased, some kids would return. Instead, the pace of enrollment decline at San Diego Unified just eased and returned to pre-pandemic levels.  

Even that bittersweet news came with a big asterisk: a significant influx of 4-year-olds enrolling in the newly created universal transitional kindergarten masked enrollment declines happening in all other grades. The gloomy long-term enrollment picture is made even gloomier by the fact that districts are funded in part by enrollment, so the more kids San Diego Unified loses, the less money it receives. That funding picture is further complicated when you take into account the role average daily attendance plays in funding and the fact that the district, like many across the country, has seen an unprecedented surge in student absences. 

Jakob McWhinney / Voice of San Diego

Increase in Total Budget Dollars Per Student

What do you get when you combine a ballooning budget and decreasing enrollment? A significant increase in dollars per pupil. From 2017 to 2022, the district’s funding per pupil shot up from $11,000 to $17,500. When you account for inflation, the increase falls to about 35 percent, which is still a striking figure. A little disclaimer, I reached this number by dividing the district’s total budget for each year by its enrollment and did not include extra bond money. 

Student achievement across the board took a frightening dive from pre-pandemic levels. From chronic absenteeism to test scores, last year’s state metrics set off nearly all possible academic alarm bells. The jury’s still out on whether San Diego Unified deployed this money in a way that helped students begin to climb out of the deep academic hole the pandemic put them in. That looming question mark will start to be filled in when new state metrics are released in coming months. 

Jakob McWhinney / Voice of San Diego

Class Sizes Have Dropped 

Over the past five years, San Diego Unified class sizes have dropped slightly. These metrics are pretty diverse, as different grade levels sometimes have mandated class sizes. The latest contract inked with the teachers’ union reduced the maximum class size of 35 for universal transitional kindergarten to 24, and down to 29 for kindergarten through third-grade classes. 

When class sizes are chunked out by grade levels, you see a drop across the board — the largest of which was in high school. When they’re all combined, however, you see an about 8 percent drop from 2017 to 2022, from around 30 to around 27.6.  

This is good news for students since smaller class sizes tend to equate to better learning outcomes. Still, as with many factors in these precarious financial times, it remains to be seen if San Diego Unified can continue to decrease class sizes. 

Jakob McWhinney / Voice of San Diego

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at jakob@vosd.org and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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    1. For the 2023-24 school year, unrestricted employee costs (salaries, pension payments, health & welfare benefits, etc.) are budgeted to total 94.7% of the unrestricted funding.

  1. Given that employee compensation in SDUSD totals more than 90% of SDUSD’s costs, another informative statistic would have been how employee compensation has changed over the same 5-year period. Public data of expenditures is only available through 2021-22, so we’ll use that 4-year period.

    Starting with salaries, let’s use educators as a proxy since all other collective bargaining units have “me too” clauses. SDEA negotiated a series of salary increases since 2017-18 such that starting teacher salaries in SDUSD rose 10%, average salaries rose 12.4%, and the maximum salaries rose 12.7% through 2021-22 (source: Ed Data).

    There is also the rise in costs of employee benefits. School districts’ CALSTRS pension payment rates rose from 14.4% to 19.1%, and CALPERS pension payment rates rose from 15.5% to 25.4%. Since these are calculated as the percentage of employee pay, the actual cost to SDUSD is not only the increased rate but also the amount that employee pay has risen (namely, more than 10%). Health benefit costs have also risen (14% between 2017-18 and 2021-22).

    Collectively, the actual costs for these employee compensation categories rose more than $256 million in the four years between 2017-18 and 2021-22 (Ed Data). This does not include the most recent 10% salary increase that went into effect for 2022-23 and the additional 5% increase promised for 2024-25, which will increase the costs for salaries and pension payments (with the CALSTRs rate expected to rise to 28.1% by then).

    1. … and, just fyi the median total compensation of an SDUSD certificated employee in 2022 was $138,457 – before the additional bonus raises just granted….

  2. I have a 45-year veteran CPA and income tax specialist brother who has many retired SD teachers as clients. He tells me these educators who retired a decade ago now ALL have taxable income from the district above $100k annually. The teachers unions are so very powerful in this state.

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