File photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego Unified’s budget, buoyed by a flood of federal money meant to help school districts recover from the pandemic, has ballooned over the past five years.  

But the district’s staffing levels haven’t had the same precipitous incline.  

While the district has seen about 43 percent increase in funding, its total staffing has only increased by about 2.6 percent. This increase has been led by an uptick in the number of paraeducators, individuals who work alongside and under the supervision of certificated teachers, certificated managers and professional and technical staff. Meanwhile, the number of food service workers has dropped significantly, and gardening and clerical employees have inched down slightly. 

But despite having a budget more than $600 million larger in 2022 than it had in 2017, the district now employs 18 fewer classroom teachers. Ultimately, that’s a drop in the bucket. San Diego Unified still employs nearly 5,500 teachers, so the slight decline only works out to nearly a .3 percent decrease. The number of non-classroom teachers, who support classroom teachers based on the needs of a school, has ticked up in the same period.  

“As enrollment declines, the district must allocate fewer teachers,” San Diego Unified’s Communications Director Maureen Magee wrote in an email. The staffing numbers are based on filled positions, she wrote, and “due in part to the labor shortage, recruitment continues to be challenging, resulting in a notable number of unfilled vacancies.” 

Still, even though it has slightly fewer classroom teachers, San Diego Unified’s class sizes have gone down. The exact decrease varies by grade level grouping but works out to about 8 percent districtwide.  

So, how has the district brought down class sizes while employing fewer classroom teachers? The answer seems to lie in another number – enrollment. San Diego Unified’s been grappling with the same trend of enrollment decline seen in public schools across the country for nearly a decade. That trend spiked significantly over the pandemic, when school went online. 

Simply put, San Diego Unified’s enrollment has dropped so much in the past five years that even though there are slightly fewer classroom teachers the number per student has actually increased by 11 percent. 

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

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  1. Thanks for exposing how bloated and overfunded SD Unified is. Cut the administrators in half and outsource the food service.

    1. Employee costs have increased. 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). That does not include a 10% raise in 2023-24 and another 5% raise promised for 2024-25. Other collective bargaining units have “me too” clauses and received similar increases (as have “non-represented” employees).

      Pension costs have increased dramatically. The district’s payment rate for CALSTRS rose from 14.4% to 19.1%, and the rates for CALPERS rose from 15.5% to 25.4%. Since these are calculated as a percentage of employee pay, the actual cost to SDUSD not only reflects the increased payment rates but is also higher since employee pay has risen.

      Health and welfare benefits have gone up 14%, and the district pays all premium costs for employees and their dependents.

      Thus, employee compensation is expected to consume 94.7% of the unrestricted funding in SDUSD this school year and is forecasted to demand more than all available unrestricted funding in 2024-25 (107.3%) and 2025-26 (112.2%). This will generate $128.9 million and $182 million in budget deficits, respectively, which will require “budget solutions” (aka cuts to programs and services) to balance the budget.

    2. How can a “journalist” and “journal” publisher Not investigate this?? Once Again we see- if eyes opened- the terrible irresponsibility rot and corruption taking us all down

  2. As the so-called school, districts, continue the demise of our children, let’s keep saying and doing nothing. & note: the hidden rulers plan to ruin the public, to further steal for the “private” good

  3. I graduated from Hoover in 1959. SDUSD budget per student was $390 in the ‘60-‘61 school year. California schools were ranked first in the nation. Today, they rank 48th and spend $15,000+ per student. Is it the Union or incompetence on the part of the board and administration?

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