SDUSD superintendent: ‘The state of our district is strong’

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Unified District Board of Education President Richard Barrera and Superintendent Cindy Marten jointly delivered the annual State of the District address Tuesday, focusing on the local housing crisis and the federal crackdown on illegal immigration.

Barrera said the lack of affordable housing and gentrification of neighborhoods in San Diego has contributed to an unusual decline in student enrollment in the past year.

Barrera said district officials had projected enrollment would decrease as students left district schools for charter schools. However, the number of students leaving the district was 1,300 more than initially projected.

"That decline is primarily due to the fact that it is more difficult for families to afford to live in San Diego," Barrera told the crowd at Sherman Elementary School. "We need to understand that the housing crisis is an education crisis."

The event was held at Sherman Elementary School, which has a dual- language immersion program and a student population that is predominantly Latino.

Barrera said that in response to President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration, the district will continue to operate as a "sanctuary district," meaning it will not cooperate or allow immigration authorities into schools.

"We will continue to fight for our Dreamers and we will not agree with a system that protect students, but deports our parents," Barrera said.

After addressing policies outside the school district's scope, Barrera narrowed the conversation to what the district is doing to improve schools.

Barrera said reducing the average class size and increasing spending on counseling and nurses to protect the mental and physical health of students are among the priorities.

"We continue to see an achievement gap that should not exist because we know how to solve it," Barrera said. "We know what the strategy requires, and we know its about lower class size."

To achieve those goals, Barrera said the district would need about $350 million more in funding each year, or about $3,500 for each student.

Despite the financial hurdle, Marten praised Gov. Jerry Brown for signing the Local Control Funding Formula into law.

She said the measure, which changed how districts are funded and is intended to help disadvantaged students "is working four years later."

"We don't have all the state funding that our students deserve," Marten said. "But thanks to all of you the state of our district is strong."

Among the successes mentioned were adding music programs at all the elementary schools, providing air conditioning to every classroom in San Diego by 2018 and also funding physical education classes at elementary schools.

Barrera also mentioned a decline in suspensions and an increase in bilingual students.

"Our job leaving here tonight is to lead with love and to put ourselves first in service to other because we know better schools help students do better," Marten said.