Examiner Editorial: Classroom rentals can help ease school deficit 

It is hard to understand why the San Francisco Unified School District — struggling to close a $113 million budget deficit — has not already moved to gain revenue by actively marketing rentals of its extensive and growing surplus of recreational space. In a densely crowded city like San Francisco, there always seems to be demand for additional community activity space, indoors as well as outdoors.

To its credit, the school district took the initiative of cosponsoring an independent think-tank report about the rather surprising underutilization of its more than 200 facilities in some 9 million square feet throughout The City. “San Francisco’s Public School Facilities as Public Assets,” the study by UC Berkeley Center for Cities and Schools, found that right now 134 schools and 127 acres of outdoor space are immediately available as community rentals — many even during hours while classes are in session.

This potentially revenue-producing footage is expanding because district enrollment has been in a shrinking trend. Meanwhile the school district is paying out more than $126 million in building expenses, including maintenance and upgrades. But it recoups less than 1 percent of its physical-plant costs by renting out facilities.

Of course, promoting and marketing school property for rental does not in itself guarantee any meaningful revenue. That depends on whether there is a genuine demand. However, The City’s Department of Children, Youth and Families saw enough of a need for additional public recreation space to partner with the school district in commissioning the UC Berkeley analysis.
Encouragingly, members of the Board of Education seem to be backing the idea that the school district needs to start proactively promoting new uses of its facilities to bring in money — instead of continuing to reflexively cut back on student services every time the newest annual deficit shows up on the horizon.

School board Vice President Hydra Mendoza said that renting out unused school was more than just a promising source of much-needed funds. Especially in tightly packed neighborhoods such as the Mission district, where park space is scarce and community centers are in high demand, opening up the school grounds, gymnasiums, auditoriums and classrooms to support family activities would be a win-win for The City.

There could easily be a fee structure in which nonprofit renters would be charged less than commercial companies. On average, the district issues 1,200 facility-use permits annually, with 78 percent of those for private entities.

Now it is time for the school district to put into action this good idea of renting its unused space to raise cash. The administration must recognize that cannot just sit on its hands and wait for community rentals to market themselves.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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