Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009 | San Diego Unified is inching closer to an exit bonus that could prod thousands of veteran employees to leave the school district. Known commonly as a golden handshake, it is one in a battery of ideas the school board is weighing to save money in a budget crisis that is estimated to cost San Diego Unified more than $63 million next school year.
But disagreements remain with the employees originally targeted for the bonus — teachers — over where the savings from the plan will go. District officials want to use it to help plug the looming budget shortfall. The teachers union wants to use the savings from teacher departures to push salaries closer to the county average so that San Diego Unified educators earn as much or more than their peers in neighboring districts, as originally proposed two years ago.
It is among the many pending questions about the golden handshake, still being hashed out in negotiations with employee unions behind closed doors. The bonus is meant to thin the workforce without resorting to layoffs. But it is unknown which employees will take the bonus, how many will be replaced, and what the ultimate savings will be from the plan. And the exact savings and benefits of the last golden handshake are still debated.
Originally planned only for teachers, principals and vice principals, the school board has now expanded the bonus to all employees, from bus drivers and attendance clerks to principals and managers in its central offices.
Mark Bresee, general counsel for the school district, said the bonus was broadened to prevent layoffs among all different kinds of employees.
“If employees leave the organization at the end of their career with an added bonus for their years of service, that is a much nicer way to [reduce the workforce] than a layoff notice to the least senior employees,” he said.