San Francisco has lost a great portion of its school-age children over the past few decades, which has left its school district with buildings sitting idle. And Mayor Ed Lee has, not unreasonably, suggested that the district should seriously consider finding ways to derive extra income from all that unused property.
Already, the San Francisco Unified School District seems to have given some ground about such vacant property. Last week, the San Francisco Board of Education voted to sell a major parcel of land.
But the sale of school district property is shortsighted. There are better solutions that do not require the permanent loss of school district land that could conceivably be needed again in the future.
Everyone is well-aware that San Francisco is not currently well-known for its high percentage of families with children. The number of kids in The City dropped 40 percent during the past 50 years. The rate of residents under the age of 18 — which stands at 13.4 percent, according to census data — is one of the lowest in the country.
The reasons that families have left and are continuing to leave The City are complex, and include the cost of living, density of the environment, quality of schools and many other factors. But that is not to say The City will never again be a place for families and children. In 1965, no one could have imagined the subsequent blossoming of Haight-Ashbury or the Castro or the Mission. So no one should assume that today’s San Francisco will stay the way it is now, either.
In fact, the so-called echo generation — the kids of baby boomers — is quickly approaching the age at which many people start families. And the very same young people flocking here today for high-paying tech jobs could well decide to stay here with their broods.
We entrust our leaders with the judgment to plan for our future. And, by all means, the district’s vacant land should be put to its highest and best use. But rather than selling it off and losing all rights to it in the future, the district would be better off leasing that land to developers or business people.
If school district leaders do sell their surplus properties and later realize they must educate more children than they currently do, they will have to buy new property. We shouldn’t mortgage the future of today’s or tomorrow’s children in this manner.
We appreciate that the school district is not a landlord, but rather is in the business of educating children. But selling land is a decision from which there is no turning back. The City should not force a short-term solution upon the school district, which needs to keep planning for the long-term — and the unknown.