You’d be forgiven for thinking San Diego Unified is about to lay off lots of teachers.

Union leaders, principals and parents panicked last week when they learned of Superintendent Cindy Marten’s proposal to eliminate one teacher per school and dozens of other positions. They packed a board meeting last week, some holding signs that accused Marten of putting the district through “Hunger Games.”

But the district isn’t set to hand out pink slips. Instead, San Diego Unified is poised for a reshuffling effort cobbled together in the wake of the release of Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget, which proposed sticking school districts across the state with steeper pension bills to close a shortfall.

San Diego Unified was already saddled with more than a $100 million budget shortfall before this news despite voters’ approval of a statewide  tax increase in 2012, which delivered  $117.1  million in new funding this year. In San Diego, most of the new tax dollars will be eaten up by increased costs and agreements with teachers who previously went years without across-the-board pay increases.

One of the district’s strategies to deal with its already existing deficit – and declining enrollment – was to hand about 470 teachers a retirement deal to both lessen its teaching corps and get some of its more expensive educators off the payroll.

All those retirements mean the district will need to hire hundreds of new teachers next year. The new teachers will cost less than those who took the retirement deal.

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Marten recommended last week that some of those new teachers come from within the district instead of from outside.  She’s asked every school principal to try to pick a teacher that currently isn’t spending the majority of his or her time in the classroom – these could be teachers who assist English language learners or help with math instruction, for example – to go back into the classroom full time.

This is effectively a service cut without any layoffs. Fewer teachers in the district will serve in specialized roles that aid both students and other teachers.

Those cuts won’t be possible at every school.

Take Marvin Elementary in Allied Gardens. The school has 15 teachers and two are retiring at the end of the school year. All are assigned to classrooms.

So Principal E. Jay Derwae met with district officials on Thursday to explain that he doesn’t have any teachers that work outside the classroom to offer up as part of the reshuffling plan, and that he needs all those teachers at Marvin Elementary to maintain class sizes mandated by the state.

He’s confident the district will exempt his school from the reshuffling requirement.

John Lee Evans, one of the school board members who tentatively signed off on this plan last week, said that’s what should be happening in such cases.

“There’s no absolute top-down decision (that) this is what you must do,” Evans said. “There’s recognition that there are large schools and there are small schools.”

Those large schools may have a handful of out-of-classroom teachers and simply have to pick one to go back to the classroom full time.

And Evans and Derwae both said the vast majority of these teachers should remain at the same school.

The district estimated this reorganizing effort would save about $13.1 million annually over the next three years if every school reassigns one teacher. (Again, some schools are unlikely to do this so that estimate is a bit inflated.)

Seems simple enough, right?

But there was another proposal on the books last week that added to the confusion.

Shortly after trustees discussed reshuffling plans, they talked about eliminating dozens of positions. This also concerned union leaders and parents.

This was an entirely separate discussion.

Every year, principals put together their budgets and list the positions that’ll be on their payroll. Then the district axes vacant positions not included in those budget proposals.

Child development center and clerical assistant positions are among those on the chopping block this year. There weren’t any classroom teaching positions on the list.

Evans said the district isn’t projecting any cost-savings along with this plan because there aren’t people currently working those jobs.

Yet leaders of the classified employees union were alarmed last week.

Trustee Richard Barrera, who also leads the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, said the confusion largely boiled down to bargaining concerns.

He said the district initially misidentified the reasons why some positions were being cut and failed to explain its rationale to the union before last week’s meeting.

“The communications issue was the problem,” Barrera said. “They had a right to sit down and go through it.”

Principals, teachers’ union leaders and parents were similarly unclear about Marten’s teacher reshuffling proposal.

Derwae acknowledged he was initially confused too. Some principals who met with Marten before last week’s school board meeting even emailed school staff incorrect information.

“I just think some people went back to their sites and said, ‘the sky is falling,’ and really didn’t have a chance to process it through,” Derwae said.

    This article relates to: Government, News, School Finances, School Leadership, Share

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

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    Scott Hasson
    Scott Hasson subscriber

    This is again a clear picture that we need student focused board members...not union focused.  So, the answer for SDUSD is to vote opposite of anyone who is supported by the teachers union.  The Teachers union..calling themselves an association now to try to fool us and is clearly against children and for adults and employment only.  Don"t be fooled, you will have a chance to vote in smart and vote pro children/anti teachers union!

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    Oh. I see. The tax increase that voters approved was for pensions all along. There was never any intention to use the money to properly fund schools. Voters got duped again! Now we'll need to pay even more to actually take care of the kids.

    G.Fandango subscriber

    The reason why this reads as a puff piece is that it nicely glosses over what a "teacher who isn't currently spending the majority of his or her time in the classroom" is doing. It makes it seem like those teachers are not contributing today. The examples given are "teachers who assist English language learners or help with math instruction." That does a disservice to those teachers and what they do.

    These teachers are resource teachers, who specialize in special education or English language acquisition, among other things. They are in schools now to serve a wide spectrum of grades, which is why they're not in a classroom today. They carry specialized education and training to help specific segments of the student population who need the most help and assistance. 

    If resource teachers are reassigned to classrooms, the burden of providing the specialized support those groups will need will fall on the classroom teacher, who will be, in many cases, unqualified and unsupported to provide the specific support those kids need. Reassigning resource teachers as classroom teachers will save the district money at the expense of the children who are often the weakest and in the most need of support. 

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    @G.Fandango It doesn't gloss over anything.  It simply reports facts which is what news reporters are supposed to do.  They aren't supposed to be providing opinions about Cindy Marten's proposals.  Your post could be better received by others if you simply added your additional thoughts which might be quite interesting to read.

    SherryS subscriber

    SDUSD needs to communicate better with parents and staff about these important issues. Why do I hear about these plans from the media and not directly from the district? Also, the request for each school to give up one teacher shows how the district doesn't consider the needs of schools like Marvin Elementary and Kumeyaay Elementary where resources are so scarce there are NO teachers not in the classroom and no librarian and only rarely a school nurse . . .

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    I know I repeat myself on this a gazillion times but it is serious and some honesty from the district, board of education , legislators and CALSTRS is needed. Their failure to act on this problem is why it is so big regardless of the happy talk.

    The unfunded gap in pensions has grown to 73.3 billion.

    The district needs to be honest with the public and the younger teachers about this and how it will affect the budgeting. It is coming home to roost.

    "Contributions are determined as a percentage of employees’ pay. Teachers and administrators currently pay 8 percent of their salaries into the defined benefit program; the state pays 3 percent and districts 8.25 percent. Once fully phased in over three years, teachers would pay 10.25 percent of salaries and the state would pay 6.3 percent. Districts’ share, under Brown’s plan, would soar to 19.1 percent of employees’ pay, paid for out of Proposition 98 funding. The phase-in for districts would be seven years."

    Michael Russell
    Michael Russell subscriber

    @Mark Giffin When the average teacher in SDUSD makes $95,000/year in compensation on a 175 day contract, all that's happening is that they are making the employee contributions transparent. It was never the 'state' or the 'district' contributing to the pension system, it was always the employee and the tax-payers. Now, the employee will see the REAL cost of their pensions taken out of what could otherwise be their cash-compensation (i.e. salary). That's a good measure, it makes the game more transparent.

    If we truly want to help kids get a real education, first we need to show the public labor pool the true level of compensation offered to educators, so that our best and brightest will stop becoming stock brokers and start becoming teachers.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Michael Russell @Mark Giffin 

    Ultimately yes. 

    The funding formula for the CALSTRS program is different. 

    The younger teachers don't quite get it......Yet.

    I suspect the change in (state) funding formula for schools was a give it with one hand take it with the other.

    Regardless we will be hearing the education establishment pleading poverty again in the not to distant future.