TrueStatement: “This district has gone down in enrollment every single year, for I don’t know how many years, and yet we have not reduced the workforce commensurately with that. I mean that’s the reality,” San Diego Unified School District board member Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said at the April 25 board meeting.

Determination: True

Analysis: To help cut more than $124 million from next year’s budget, San Diego school leaders planned to let go of roughly 1,000 employees, though district officials said final layoff numbers are still not available.

The district has blamed state officials for the cuts, though that’s a hard sell. The district has also pointed to rising employee pension costs, labor market pressures and declining student enrollment, which decreases state funding.

Officials have said the layoffs will “right-size” the district, bringing staffing in line with the budget and student population.

Board member Sharon Whitehurst-Payne made the same point at an April 25 board meeting. “This district has gone down in enrollment every single year, for I don’t know how many years, and yet we have not reduced the workforce commensurately with that. I mean that’s the reality,” she said.

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Voice of San Diego submitted a California Public Records Act request on March 6 seeking annual employee counts going back to 2007. The district said it would produce the data on June 7, but didn’t and has set a new deadline of July 28 –144 days after the request was filed. Whitehurst-Payne did not respond to several inquiries about her remarks in April.

Though the data still hasn’t been produced, a district spokeswoman recently offered some limited numbers that provide snapshots of budgeted full-time positions from Dec. 31, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2016. Budgeted positions do not reflect the number of people actually reporting to work and getting paid, but it’s better than nothing. Requests for filled position numbers, which may offer a more accurate picture of district staffing increases, have been unsuccessful.

According to those numbers, district staffing rose from 12,586 positions in December 2013 to nearly 12,934 positions in December 2016. That’s an increase of 347 positions, and included an additional 45 management positions, nearly 31 teaching positions and 271 non-teaching staff.

2013 v 2016 SDUSD staffing

Source: San Diego Unified


Those increases were made for several reasons, including the opening of a new school, Jonas E. Salk Elementary, and to meet an increased need for translation services and counselors, as well as financial clerks for the high schools, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez.

Records show the addition of 347 budgeted positions occurred while student enrollment continued to decline, partially due to lower birth rates.

Total San Diego Unified student enrollment declined from roughly 130,000 students in 2013 to 128,000 in 2017. But that’s not the whole picture.

A growing number of students are opting for charter schools in the district, which are public schools located within the district’s boundaries but that operate independently. When a student chooses to go to a charter school instead of a district-run school, the money for that student goes to the charter school.

Charter school populations are growing while district-run school populations decline.

SDUSD enrollment

District-run schools enrolled 110,609 students in 2013-14, and only 105,803 in 2016-17, for a decrease of 4,806 students.

Compare district staffing with district-run school enrollment and the trend is clear: The district budgeted more staff for fewer students in recent years.

Nearly 350 new positions added between 2013 and 2016 also meant across-the-board raises – like the 4 percent raises approved by trustees last year and again last fall – would cost more. District officials in December said the 4 percent raise last fall alone added $30 million to the budget deficit.

Adding staff increased ongoing costs for salaries and pensions, as well as health insurance, which is paid entirely by the district. All of that worsened the structural deficit leaders say the deep budget cuts begin to address.

District budget records show general fund costs for employee salaries and benefits totaled $224 million more in fiscal year 2017 than 2014, the two periods for which staffing data was provided. In 2014, employees cost the district’s general fund $999.6 million a year. This year, employees cost more than $1.22 billion, an amount equal to 89 percent of all general fund expenses.

Despite the recent employee cuts, including layoffs, furloughs and work-year reductions, employee costs are expected to climb to 95 percent of all general fund expenses by fiscal year 2020, or $1.25 billion, new budget projections show.

Though data on the actual number of positions filled would shed more light on how district staffing has changed in recent years, the district’s data on budgeted positions prove Whitehurst-Payne right: District staffing numbers have gone up since 2013, even as student enrollment dropped.

    This article relates to: Education, Fact Check, Must Reads, School Finances, School Leadership

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at or 619.550.5669.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    This is the kind of reporting that makes the VOICE a valuable addition to local media options.  It melds well with another recent VOICE story on how the SDUSD upped its graduation percentage by fobbing off most of their C- and below students to charter schools.

    This style of reporting is a throwback to earlier times, when investigative journalism was an honored tradition in the newspaper business.  

    What's particularly impressive is that the staff of VOICE are doubtless all liberals, yet they make a decent effort at providing stories based on facts rather than ideology.  Perhaps VOICE can hold "old school" seminars for the staff of the U-T, LA TIMES, SAC BEE, etc.

    rhylton subscriber

    I choose to see this as another of the denominator problems that bedevils this district and its namesake city.  And, it does seem that the condition makes for a story every time press outlet encounters it.

    The accuracy of the statement "even as student enrollment dropped" is the key to all things.

    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    Is there any non-government job where 100% of health care is paid for?  Must be somewhere but I can't think of a single one.  Interesting that almost all of the extra jobs are non-teaching. Guess that's why the bill keeps going up and the quality down. 

    Dennis James
    Dennis James subscriber

    Great data. Keep up the good work. How can we solve the problem of stonewalling information requests?

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Let's see, the district needs 3 months to provide data that should be available in a day or two.  

    Then, they miss their promise date and want another 7 weeks? 

    Do you get the feeling they are just jerking you around?

    Sue the bas...s!  

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    If anyone wonders why student Math scores continue to drop, it could be that math does not seem like a skill many of the local district leadership have mastered.  

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    Not to worry, legislation banning Charter Schools is already in the works. To big to fail come to mind?