This post has been updated.

When Superintendent Cindy Marten was handed the keys to San Diego Unified, she inherited some daunting mandates: Make good on the salary raises promised to teachers, honor employment contracts, give students access to more resources. And do it all with a $106 million budget deficit.

A year into her tenure, Marten’s first budget passed Tuesday with unanimous support — the first time that’s happened since 2008.

How it Came Together

The picture looked bright in January.

The district was still facing a structural deficit – meaning it’s fundamentally set up to spend more than it takes in – but there was hope that the additional funds Gov. Jerry Brown would be allocating to schools through the Local Control Funding Formula would be enough to keep the lights on.

That’s when Marten took a bold step, promising to beef up services for preschool-aged children, improve services for English-language learners in middle school and expand credit recovery and dropout prevention efforts for high school students.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

But in May the district got word that the influx of cash from Brown wouldn’t be as lucrative as first thought. In fact, the district would be asked to pay more into CalSTRS, the state’s pension system for teachers.

Marten needed to find a new way to make up cash – fast. So, just a weeks ago, she threw a Hail Mary.

She’d move resource teachers – certificated teachers who help students with reading, or support English-language learners – into the classroom, where they’d lead class full time.

This way, the district wouldn’t have to hire as many new teachers to replace the ones it lost. The last-minute play would save an additional $11 million.

Not everyone is applauding, however. The teachers union has been supportive of the plan for years – but didn’t like the fact that Marten acted without consulting them. And some principals reject the plan because they don’t have the resource teachers to spare (they can appeal, if so) or because many resource teachers help with administrative duties.

Marten still plans to sell off some district land to bring in money, but a small fraction of what was proposed in recent months.

The budget shortfall, along with the amount of land needed to sell in order to balance the budget, was a moving target. The district didn’t know exactly how much money it would get from the state until recently, and when the hole looked bigger, the de facto plan was to sell more land.

Marten planned for an additional $7 million worth of property sales to balance the books, but in order to secure Trustee Scott Barnett’s vote, Marten agreed to look for money in other places. District staff will go back to work on this part of the budget, and revisit the issue at a board meeting next month.

In the future, the district plans to look for ways to lease property – that way it can profit while still maintaining ownership.

Passing the budget is a huge win for Marten, but she said it’s important to frame the budget in the appropriate context: California schools are still woefully underfunded.

“As a teacher, and then a school principal, it was my job to find a way to teach students regardless of funding, or how many students I had in a class,” Marten said.

“I’ve done the best I’ve done putting this budget together with bubble gum and scotch tape, but I can’t take this to scale unless the adequacy of funding is there,” she said.

What the Budget Will Do

Here are some highlights from Marten’s budget proposal. It seeks to:

• Reduce class sizes from a ratio of 27-to-1 for kindergarten through third grade to 25.5-to-1. The 29 high-poverty schools identified by the district will have 24-1 ratio for K-3.

• Fully fund implementation of Common Core

• Allocate more resources for English-language learners, including language development classes and better monitoring of programs and expanded training for teachers

• Ensure that all elementary schools will have their libraries open at least one day a week (Marten said she plans to grow this, but calls the guarantee a down payment on future improvements)

• Bring counselors back to school earlier to help ensure students have class schedules ready for the school year begins

• Maintain GATE and Seminar (programs for gifted and talented kids)

• Maintain arts, athletics, school safety, custodial, nursing and counselors

• Meet contractually obligated salary increases for teachers

• Maintain existing health benefits for employees

• Maintain i21 program (technology in the classroom)

• Initiate about $223 million in facility upgrades through Prop. S/Prop. Z funds

• Phase out real-estate sales and initiate strategies to lease and keep properties

• Kick in $200,000 for a bus pass program so students can get to school

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

    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: mario@vosd.org.

    8 comments
    SerraMesaBill
    SerraMesaBill subscriber

    Hey I got an Idea, read the paper. Obama what to spend 3.7 billion dollars to fix the problems of the 50,000 illegal minors that walk across the border. If you don't protest to the government about spending 3.7 billion of your tax dollars on this issue then you need to stop crying about no money.  Actually todays children will be be paying for this debt when were long gone. This is a scam people, it does take 3.7 BILLION dollars to fix the problem, more like a C30 transport plane and some rice and beans. Protest!

    James Wilson
    James Wilson subscriber

    Give Cindy credit for negotiating the state's insane method of funding education. This really goes all the way back to Prop 13. The conservative governors-see Reagan, Deukmajian and Wilson woeful underfunded education and Brown hasn't got the money to properly fix education funding. The answer is a split real estate tax where commercial property taxes keep up with inflation. Prop 13 was an enormous unfair taxation of the rest of us while commercial real estate hasn't paid its fair share.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Sounds like a budget shell game.

    Which nut is the $$$ really under?

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    So...

    To save money, Martin issues the decree to remove resource teachers from their current jobs (educating non-English speaking students, supporting transitional students, etc.) and putting them into a full-time teaching position. 

    Then, she touts how her new budget will  

    "Allocate more resources for English-language learners, including language development classes and better monitoring of programs and expanded training for teachers."

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but these two plans are contradictory in nature.  How in the bloody H**l will removing resource teachers equate to allocating more resources for English language learners?  And why didn't the school board catch this Catch-22?

    EducatedMom
    EducatedMom subscribermember

    Just to clarify, the budget that passed last night did not include the increased costs of the CalSTRS pension payments.  The SD County of Education did not require this because these costs were a moving target in the state legislature during the district's budget development.  The district will provide the board with an updated budget in July that includes changes such as the increased funding for LCFF, the increased cost for CalSTRS, and Scott Barnett's proposal to eliminate real estate sales.


    I applaud the district's efforts to become fiscally solvent and the board and district approaching the budget discussions with a three-year strategy and not just getting through the upcoming school year.  While not included in this article, it is of note that the district has identified deficits of more than $60 million annually for 2015-16 and 2016-17, even without the increased CalSTRS payments (which will ratchet from approximately $3 million to nearly $60 million annually over the next seven years).  So while SDUSD can breathe a sigh of relief, the budget squeeze for the district will continue for several years.


    The reality is that per pupil spending in California is significantly less than the national average (CA ranks at or near the bottom when adjusted for regional cost averages), which is why SDUSD and districts across the state are scrambling to meet their obligations, much less restoring salaries, programs and services cut during the recession. If we want California to be restored as a leader in education, rather than languishing at the bottom, then financial investment will be needed.  Instead of handing schools debts (like the bulk of the CalSTRS pension liability) and shifting schools' property tax revenues to cover other obligations (see www.yesforeducation.org), the folks in Sacramento need to recognize that they are balancing the state budget on the the backs of students by starving them of a high quality education.

    SherryS
    SherryS subscriber

    California public schools are woefully underfunded.  I couldn't agree more.

    Dennis
    Dennis subscriber

    How much money is being spent to fully implement Common Core?


    How much to implement its testing?


    Now with Bill gates asking for a two year moratorium on testing and many states dropping common core or threatening to, should SDUSD look at saving those costs?


    Common Core is standing on wobbly legs across the nation...maybe SDUSD should reconsider?


    It would certainly save in all the lost class time students have had for teacher training this past school year.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Dennis @Dennis Schamp

    To answer your questions (from the trenches):

    1) way too much

    2) even more than #1

    3&4 ) yes they should.  In fact, I believe that we should join those other states who have opted out of common core and create our own

    5) Yes it would.  We're being asked to take 10 days in the coming year for CC PD. That's 10 days that I'm forced out of my classroom, to work on curriculum that should have been completed by now, so that we'd have time over the summer to review and prepare our lesson strategies for the fall.  Instead, we're going to be writing this stuff on the fly...but still over the summer.  

    (Yes, friends, contrary to popular belief, teachers do work during the months of June, July, and August. Just ask my family).