The San Diego Unified school board Tuesday night approved more early retirement deals based on numbers that don’t exist yet.

The second largest K-12 public school district in California has been slashing its employee ranks to try to close a $124.4 million projected deficit next school year.

Last week, the board approved a payout for 528 retiring teachers worth 100 percent of their final salary, even though district documents showed the deal would not achieve the savings it was supposed to. District staff recommended the same payout for 600 of the district’s administrators, police and other non-teaching staff in both white-collar and blue-collar jobs Tuesday, and they were approved 5-0 Tuesday.

When approving the incentives earlier this year, the school board agenda said the deals would need to “generate net savings, or no net cost” to the district’s unrestricted general fund for a period of five years, and most required savings next school year.

But district charts posted online for Tuesday’s school board meeting show the deals for 600 non-teaching employees would cost more than $24.4 million. Throw in the $635,600 the teacher deal was shown to cost, and the total reaches $25 million by 2022.

District documents show no savings in any year for any of the non-teaching employee groups. The catch: Those numbers include the costs to replace every retiree – something a district spokeswoman and the superintendent said publicly the district does not plan to do.

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That means the district documents for Tuesday’s meeting do not reflect the district’s actual plan, and according to officials, the actual plan is still being finalized.

No board members expressed any concern about approving the incentive before savings numbers are available, although board member Sharon Whitehurst-Payne apologized to employees for any confusion the district may have caused regarding the deal over the last week.

“We are not asking for 100 percent replacement… We are not asking for an additional expenditure,” Superintendent Cindy Marten told the board before the vote. She promised the deals would be “cost neutral.”

“It’s not going to cost us money,” said Trustee John Lee Evans.

No alternate numbers have been produced publicly showing zero cost to the district for the incentives.

Even so, the district’s plan has always been to leave some vacancies created by retirees open to make sure the retirement program doesn’t cost money, district spokeswoman Shari Winet said in an email.

“Costs of the program will be offset by leaving non-teaching positions open,” Winet wrote Monday. “The district is still analyzing which positions will be left vacant. Positions that are critical to student learning and safety will not be considered.”

No non-teaching employee layoffs were rescinded Tuesday, and it is not clear when the board will take action to do so, or how many non-teaching employees will receive good news.

Winet also said there are benefits to be gained from the retirements. The district “is in the middle of a major effort to modernize its workforce,” which includes, “pay hikes to hire and retain the best workers; retirements – more than 1,100 people headed for the doors; layoffs required to right size the enterprise,” she wrote.

Winet listed an “older workforce – some of the retirees are in their 80s; structural deficit due to chronic underfunding by the state; no more one-time solutions – like real estate sales – are available.” Part of “the payoff” of the retirements will be a “younger, savvy workforce,” the email said.

All district employees who are eligible to retire from the state pension systems who had worked for the district at least five years were offered 100 percent of their final annual salary, paid out incrementally over five years.

Though reportedly inaccurate, district documents for Tuesday’s meeting showed the following:

The payout and replacement of 177 office-technical and business services employees retiring would cost nearly $808,000 in year one and nearly $7.6 million in five years’ time.

The payout and replacement of 171 operational support services employees, a group that includes transportation, custodial, maintenance, food workers and others, would cost more than $1.3 million in year one and nearly $7.5 million in five years’ time.

The payout and replacement of 84 administrators and managers would cost nearly $732,700 next year and a total of $5.37 million in five years’ time.

The payout and replacement of 149 paraeducators, a group that includes noon duty workers, special needs assistants and child development center workers, would cost nearly $345,500 in year one and more than $2.6 million in five years’ time.

The payout and replacement of seven school police department employees would cost more than $60,000 next year and nearly $461,000 in five years’ time.

The payout and replacement of 12 other non-teaching staff that aren’t represented by a union would cost the district $127,750 in year one and $922,200 in five years’ time.

According to district officials, teacher layoffs were reduced last week from 952 to 467 thanks to the teacher retirement incentive, meaning 92 percent of the slots held by retiring teachers will be refilled.

    This article relates to: Education, 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.

    EducatedMom subscribermember

    I watched the meeting in disbelief.  The Superintendent, who with the Board has led the district into the fiscal crisis it's currently facing, said, essentially, that we shouldn't worry, trust her, it won't cost anything--but offered no proof.  Sorry, but her track record for budgeting does not inspire confidence, so why would the Board believe her? Did they not hear the CFO just minutes earlier during the budget presentation say. "The costs of SERP won't be known until sometime in 2017-18"?  Then again, their track record for budgeting isn't any better. 

    The district can say anything, but there is no disputing that a SERP costs money:  annuity premiums and PARS fees are paid out for folks who are no longer working.  This amounts to more than one year's salary for each retiree (paid out at 20% per year for 5 years).  The question is only whether there are net savings over those 5 years by reducing costs through leaving their positions vacant or replacing the retirees with lower-cost folks. That takes a very complex analysis of which positions would be left open, which would be occupied, whether there is a direct correlation between those whose pink slips would be rescinded and the vacated positions, and what the cost of each employee would be over the next five years compared to the person who would be vacating the position--for every one of the hundreds of employees taking SERP and the hundreds of pink-slipped personnel who whose pink slips are rescinded.  

    Then there is the "long view" in that the district has already identified another $52.5 million shortfall in 2018-19.  How many of those whose pink slips are rescinded now will survive into 2018-19 or the three years after that?  So when the lowest person on the district's seniority totem pole (also generally the least expensive) is let go again in a year, you might have someone more expensive taking the place of the person who vacated the position to SERP, and your savings decrease.  Or if you actually hire back someone for a position you were going to leave vacant but changed your mind anytime in the next 5 years, then your savings decrease.

    Once all the folks settle into their positions and the district hires back for all the vacancies it has to fill, that's when we'll learn whether the collective SERPs are revenue neutral, as claimed.  

    Meanwhile, did Winet really say that the district is considering "pay hikes to hire and retain the best workers"?!  They just spent $28 million annually on across-the-board pay raises--and then cut $28 million from the 2017-18 budget to pay for it.  At 93+% of the district's costs linked to employee compensation, can they not see that any pay hike will only result in cuts to other employees?  Unbelievable...