For the past month, district officials have been scrambling to plug the looming $124 million budget shortfall they face for next year. Thus far, district officials have been mostly mum on how those cuts would impact schools and classrooms.

Any layoffs of teachers would have to be announced next month.

Now, as school leaders across the city start talking about what is going to happen, the district has addressed it. In a message posted on Facebook, Superintendent Cindy Marten wrote that parents are meeting at schools across the district to find creative ways keep the brunt of the cuts away from classrooms.

“We will cut from the top first. Before we ask schools to do more, we will cut central office staff.”

But if that’s the plan, word apparently hasn’t reached E.B. Scripps Elementary School. In a message a Scripps parent passed to VOSD, Principal Liz Sloan urged parents to brace for cuts. In addition to reduced library hours and fewer staff members to monitor lunch and recess, Sloan told parents all elementary schools with fewer than 1,000 students will lose their vice principals.

Sloan was not immediately available for comment.

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San Diego Unified spokeswoman Shari Winet said she could not confirm Sloan’s message because budget decisions are still preliminary. Members of the public will know more in two weeks, she wrote, when staff presents budget solutions to the school board.

Winet couldn’t say how many schools may lose their vice principals – or whether any will at all. If Sloan’s missive ends up coming true – it could mean every elementary school in the district but one could lose their vice principal.

That has some parents worried.

Dale Huntington, a parent at Chollas Mead Elementary, grew concerned after school leaders informed parents their vice principal was on the chopping block. The school’s head principal is a strong leader, he said, but the vice principal, who is bilingual, provides a vital communication link between parents and the school. That’s especially important given the school’s demographics: About 62 percent of students are counted as English-learners.

“Personally, I don’t believe the most important thing for a school is its teachers. I believe it’s engaged parents. And if we don’t have anyone who can help parents, the kids, who are already in an impoverished area, are going to fall further behind,” Huntington said.

This week San Diego Unified officials unveiled a list of several multimillion-dollar construction projects in the works for this year, including a strategically designed classroom at Kearny High for students to complete elaborate projects on computers and 3D printers.

But because those are paid for with a special pot of money that generally can’t go toward employee salaries, the district is in the awkward position of celebrating those costly projects even as it figures out how to hang on to the vice principals, librarians and health aides who work in schools.

The extent of the budget woes started coming into focus in December, when the district approved $117 million in loosely defined cuts. At least part that shortfall came from a 4 percent employee pay raise approved by the school board, which takes effect this year.

The district plans to outspend general fund revenues by about $100 million this school year, district records show.

The district’s new CFO, Patricia Koch, warned in December that even with planned cuts and short-term borrowing, the district was “skating on thin ice.”

“We cannot expect to see the large infusions of funds,” she said at the time. “We cannot wait for a miracle to happen.”

Still, school board members expressed optimism that more money would come from the state.

“We have been good stewards,” Trustee John Lee Evans said in December. “There is no plan for mass layoffs. We always balance our budget. We have the required reserve fund. We don’t have a huge reserve fund, because we are using our money to educate our kids.”

The following month, however, optimism was dampened when it became clear the district would not see as much money from the state as it hoped. The looming shortfall grew from $117 million to $124 million.

News of the potential impacts is reaching schools just as they set out to plan for next year.

Meanwhile, the district’s construction department, flush with cash from two bond measures that raised or extended property taxes and provided the district $4.9 billion to spend on repairs, renovations and technology, is moving full steam ahead.

In an update provided this week, San Diego Unified said it has thus far spent $1.32 billion on 53 new classroom buildings, technology overhauls and athletic stadiums.

By law, that bond money can’t be spent on salaries, maintenance or operations, so none of it can be used to directly plug the shortfall. Still, this week’s press conference – where officials unveiled plans for new multimillion-dollar projects while schools are simultaneously bracing for cuts – made for jarring optics.

Though Marten’s Facebook message doesn’t address whether vice principals are on the chopping block, it does single out another leadership position:

“Every possible qualified teacher will be in the classroom serving students, and not on special assignment to support other district goals – no matter how worthy those goals may be. We need all hands on deck,” she wrote.

Over the course of Marten’s administration, she has moved a number of principals – several of them amid controversy – out of schools and onto “special assignment,” which are often loosely defined roles within the district’s Central Office.

Last year, for example, Marten removed then-Serra High principal Vincent Mays from his post after an internal investigator could not find conclusive evidence that the Ph.D. he claimed to have earned came from a legitimate institution.

After the investigation concluded, Marten moved Mays to a special assignment in the Central Office – a lateral move that allowed him to keep his $143,000 yearly salary.

Amy Redding, a parent and chair of a committee that supports schools in the Kearny cluster, said she isn’t surprised by the looming shortfall.

“When things seem rosy and resources are thrown at you, nobody bothers to look behind the curtain. And until the curtain gets pulled back and you see what all this feel-good stuff has cost us, we don’t see the hole we’re in,” Redding said. “The responsibility of keeping the district financially healthy is solely in the hands of the school board and the superintendent. The blame is on them.”

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, School Bonds, School Finances

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email:

    Jse Hfn
    Jse Hfn subscriber

    20 years ago I was an education major at USC. SDUSD convinced me to change my major. I'm glad I did, because apparently nothing has changed. It is corruption, just not the type you immediately recognize.  

    DistrictDeeds wordpress com
    DistrictDeeds wordpress com subscriber

    @DistrictDeeds wordpress com @MarioKoran C'mon Mario...somebody is lying...either the Principal who sent the letter or the "San Diego Unified spokeswoman Shari Winet said she could not confirm Sloan’s message because budget decisions are still preliminary."

    My sources said that the Principals were provided this information from the District and the Principals were just passing it on to their staff.  This happened at other schools also, not just Scripps Elementary.  Principals had to turn in their Budgets by Monday at 5 so I believe the Principals.

    Why not call out Winet for not being truthful for not saying that the District gave them that info?

    Classic SDUSD Central Office leadership undercutting Principals trying to be honest with their schools.  Also classic total communication disconnect between SDUSD/Marten Senior leadership and the stakeholders actually involved in the education of students...Principals, Teachers, Site Staff, Parents, Community and Students.

    I also would like to know how you vetted the "When things seem rosy and resources are thrown at you" quote by Redding.

    What resources and "Rosy" for who?

    The ELL students who lost all their ELST's and will be losing even more this year?

    The Gate Students who have a shell of a GATE program left?

    The 5th grade students who lost 5th grade camp?

    The students who lost Balboa Park and Old Town educational activities?

    The over 100 schools who had their experienced Principal removed and replaced...sometimes with an individual with no experience or leadership credentials (like Marten)?

    The schools who lost custodial support and now have students sitting and eating in filthy classrooms and using filthy rest rooms with vermin and bugs?

    And I could go on...

    The time to put "the blame" on the Board and Supt. was during the last 3 years while they were running the SDUSD into the ground instead of sitting around worrying about losing access to the inner circle. 

    When a SDUSD Spokesperson throws out rubbish, please throw it back. 

    Ron Hidinger
    Ron Hidinger subscriber

    Things I learned:

    - there are elementary schools with more than 1000 students.

    - elementary schools have vice principals

    bcat subscriber

    Over and over again we hear the same problem and the same solutions... they always dance around the issue:

    1. Just a handful of years ago, we scrounged through Central Office staff to make sure all certified teachers were teaching and not doing administrative work.  Did we re-hire those positions?  If not, there's nobody cut

    2.  Our workforce is slanted towards the more expensive side because we have a LIFO system - last one in is the first one out.  That escalates the cost of teaching because we have a workforce that has predominately +10 - 15 yrs experience and the salaries that go with that experience.  Even with that experience, they can still only teach the same number of students

    3.  Our "responsible" <See John Lee Evans' quote above> Board of Education, sold off millions of dollars of property to pay for a salaries.  That was clearly a short term solution and now we can never get that property back.  To top it off, they didn't solve the long term problem of salaries.  The salaries are such a large cost that selling a few schools (the original Barnard and Mission Beach Elementary) for over $20M total hardly put a dent in the salaries for even one year.  Clearly we cannot keep selling schools in order to funds salaries.

    4.  The real problem seems to be:

    A.  The State of California determines the $/student

    B.  SDUSD spends more than that $/student

    That's because our salaries are not compatible with the funding from the State of California.  California state government leaves it to the districts to set the salaries.

    The real issue is that the taxpayer, through referendums and their state legislature, is not funding the schools at the level SDUSD has negotiated with SDEA.

    THIS IS THE CORE PROBLEM.  If the public wont' give schools more money, SDUSD needs to:

    A.  Renegotiate salaries / benefits with SDEA

    B.  Remove the LIFO system that increases the average salary of every teacher

    C.  Re-organized to make SDUSD more scalable to grow and shrink with the number of students coming in and out of public schools (either by moving to in and out of the district or by moving in and out of charter schools)

    Fotis Tsimboukakis
    Fotis Tsimboukakis subscribermember

    Don't forget the SDUSD has to also find 3-4 hundred thousand dollars a year, for 76 years, to subsidize their friends at Monarch Development and that Scripps apartment building/lab, to secure adequate future political contributions to associated ideologues.

    No wonder other countries kick our butts in math. 

    Dennis subscriber

    @Fotis Tsimboukakis

    "No wonder other countries kick our butts in math."

    Fotis, many countries, especially in Asia, hand pick students who takes international benchmark tests. Here in the states, students are all selected randomly. If they were selected randomly in places like China, they would not be as high on the list. Compare our best with any countries best and we are at or near the top.

    Fotis Tsimboukakis
    Fotis Tsimboukakis subscribermember

    @Dennis @Fotis Tsimboukakis I went through the Greek system, K-12, where classroom sizes ranged from 30-43 students, where I struggled in math and was average in physics and chemistry. However when I came to the states, initially at the Junior College system in San Diego, the math required was 7th grade Greek math and I eventually was good enough to get into and graduate UC Berkeley.

    One of the things I found amusing is the multiple answer testing system. In most other educational systems you answer the question, not just find it among the 4 offered. We also make too many things "easier", just like the online class make up, where there is help nearby. I have seen plenty of that too.

    Dennis subscriber

    Two years ago the district spent (wasted) 24 million on common core training for teachers who each had 10 days of PD over the school year. Two weeks of instruction were lost per class and not to mention a large part of the the money spent was needed for substitutes.

    While PD is important, the district needs to STOP PD held outside of school sites. Give teachers the time to lead/collaborate with each other. I learn more from peers than any PD I have ever been to. Stop wasting money on substitutes for teacher PD. The students are better off and a lot of money can be saved.

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    It really doesn't matter what you do, smoke and mirrors, job adjustments, and material acquisition, if the children suffer from the budget issues, that is bad. School districts must be conservative with an inelastic funding source. Policies cannot be loosened in terms of expenditures until projections clearly show basic funding for five years or more. And, there must be transparency with those projections. It just seems unimaginable that with the influx of new funding from the State in the last four years that restraint should have been the policy as pertains to the budget. The bottom line is that the State gives schools more than sufficient means to educate our kids at top levels. 

      So? What needs to be done?  There are inherent inefficiencies that must be addressed and have been placed on the "back burner" for the last 16 years. Technology can solve much of this issue. But, bureaucratic inertia must be tossed out. It the money is not being directed to the improvement of per classroom education, then that money is poorly placed. Not all schools require a V.P. But, all middle and high schools must have a V.P. and more. Another way to do is to make some schools k-8 schools and thereby make management manageable. 

        Bottom line? The District is not managing its resources appropriately. In all and ever instance, the classroom, the children take precedence over anything else.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @John H Borja If you've followed the recent history of the district, you know the reason resources aren't being applied "appropriately" is that the priorities are not what the parents want, they are the priorities the employees and the unions that represent them want.  I believe that, at the current time, 100% of the board members were elected with the approval and financial support of the teachers union. Don't look for any changes until this situation changes.