Three Big Outstanding Questions on San Diego Unified’s Budget Cuts - Voice of San Diego

Education UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Three Big Outstanding Questions on San Diego Unified’s Budget Cuts

What does a $6 million cut to “Property” or a $1.5 million cut to “Civic Center” entail? On those and a number of other issues, parents, community members and even employees are struggling to understand what the cuts mean.

San Diego city schools plan to educate more than 100,000 students next school year with 1,500 fewer employees and $124.4 million less in their billion-dollar budget.

What impact will that have? Wish I could tell you.

Parents, media outlets and even union leaders and employees are all trying to figure out exactly what changes are coming to California’s second-largest public school district as a result of the cuts approved by the school board Tuesday night.

Here are some of the biggest outstanding questions.

How many positions are being cut?

A press release about the cuts did not mention the number or types of layoffs, and instead celebrated the preservation of low class sizes. A district budget FAQ page is also short on specifics and doesn’t put a number on the layoffs.

But according to district documents, about 1,500 full-time equivalent jobs will be cut to help close the $124.4 million budget shortfall next year.

That’s higher than the number being reported by some media outlets, who used the numbers shown here – but it doesn’t include the non-teaching positions cut here, here, here, here, here, here and here. We added them up, and arrived at about 1,500. A district spokeswoman said the number was incorrect, but couldn’t immediately say what the total was. We’ll update this post if we receive more information from the district.

The number includes full-time employees, counted as one position, and part-time workers, whose hours add up to full-time positions. This means more than 1,500 people could soon get layoff notices, or see their job hours reduced.

District records and some letters from school principals and department heads have shed light on some of the cuts, but the information is scattered and not comprehensive.

Special education, for instance, will absorb a $7.92 million budget cut, in part, by cutting numerous occupational therapy assistants and closing some moderate to severe disability classrooms at elementary schools, displacing 220 students who will be relocated to other schools.

Leaders of the district’s visual and performing arts program didn’t explain how they’ll manage a $1.4 million cut and the loss of 30 full-time equivalent employees, but promised parents in a letter, “Dance, music, theater and the visual arts will continue to be taught by highly-qualified teachers at every instructional level.”

The interim chief of school police sent out a letter promising schools “will be safe, both now and in the future,” but records show the department is losing $2.4 million, 20 community patrol officers, plus a sergeant and detective.

How many workers and what money will be left in each area getting cut is unclear. Requests for that information have been denied by the district’s communications office. Officials won’t even clarify what some cuts are, including a $6 million cut to “Property” and a $1.5 million cut to “Civic Center.”

Thus, the public has no way of knowing what these are, or what cutting $1.9 million from the Office of Language Acquisition will mean for English-learners, nor the impact of dozens of other reductions.

A few of the cuts reported in terms of full-time equivalent jobs include:

• 266.53 elementary teacher positions

• 94.6 physical education positions

• 62 custodian positions

• 51.7 counselor positions

• 42.2 English teacher positions

• 35 vice principal positions

• 27.88 foreign language teacher positions, most of them Spanish teachers

In some cases, the district has simply declined to shed light on certain cuts. But in other instances, district officials have tried to illuminate what the cuts mean — only to have the opposite effect. This chart, for example, is meant to show decreased staffing in various employee groups next year and was included in two budget presentations to the school board last month. To the average parent or community member (or journalist!), though, it’s quite difficult to understand.

SDUSD Employee Cuts Chart 2017

Donis Coronel, president of the union that represents 590 district managers, supervisors and vice principals, said she’s concerned about the impact losing 106 administrators will have.

“To have an elementary school with 900 students and no vice principal is really a safety issue, and I still don’t know the plan for the child development centers,” which are supposed to stay open without an administrator, Coronel said. “I think what we are dealing with here is a number of years where decisions have been made by the board that now we are all paying for.”

How final are the cuts?

California public schools rely largely on the state budget for funding.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget preview increased funding for San Diego Unified next year, but not by as much as district officials anticipated. Brown will release a revised 2017-18 budget by May 30, and those numbers are what will ultimately be used to create next year’s school budget, which will be finalized in June.

San Diego Unified’s interim CFO Patricia Koch said even a favorable state budget in May isn’t likely to save the district from cuts.

“I think it is very important for the board to be aware that even if the May revise restores the entirety of what was lost in January, we are still facing more than $100 million in reductions in ‘17-18. So, the May revise is not the place to look for eliminating our problem. It may help, but we will still need to make reductions.” Koch told the board Feb. 21.

The district’s new budget FAQ page has a similar view: “Since we are addressing a structural deficit that has been a longstanding issue, it is unlikely additional state funds in the spring will significantly impact the solutions necessary to stabilize our schools.”

An updated budget for the current school year will go to the school board by March 15, and again May 16, but even if money is saved this year, it will not likely make a difference.

That’s because district records show officials are already counting on $6.04 million in unspecified “Ongoing 16-17 Solutions.” The district communications office would not say what those solutions are, but Koch has recently said spending and hiring freezes were put in effect, which could be part of it.

Finally, multiple school board members emphasized the importance of an early retirement incentive that will be offered to employees.

The idea is that an employee eligible, or nearly eligible, for retirement will choose to retire, allowing an employee with less experience (and whose salary likely costs the district less) to stay at the district instead of being laid off.

This will affect the number of layoffs the district ultimately realizes, but it will not reduce the number of positions lost to the cuts.

In other words, whether a younger employee or older employee leaves next year – someone will leave. So depending on how many people take the retirement offer, schools will still have fewer teachers, occupational therapy assistants, noon duty supervisors, counselors, custodians, food service workers, etc. – the question is whether those remaining will be younger employees or older ones.

What’s open to negotiation?

Multiple employee union groups are still negotiating with the district over some of the reductions approved by the board.

For instance, the exact terms of the retirement incentive that will be offered to most employee groups hasn’t been finalized.

Per multiple union leaders, the terms for the reduced work year planned are also subject to negotiation and the district has not said which days will be cut, though it isn’t supposed to impact the student school year.

That means work days – and the pay that goes with them — will be cut for workers during summer, winter or other school breaks.

The district expects to save $18.61 million by reducing employee work days, and the superintendent and school board already reduced their pay by a little more than 5 percent to mirror a 14-day work year reduction.

If any work-year reductions are negotiated down and do not achieve the savings planned, the district will need to find the money someplace else.

Show Comments
Loading

We’re striving for the best possible discussion and may delete comments using our editorial judgment. All comments containing links will be reviewed by VOSD staff before they are published.
Read our full comment policy.
For longer comments, consider submitting an op-ed to Voice of San Diego.
Read the guidelines here.

We have recently updated our commenting system. If you are unable to submit a comment, please clear the cache and cookies in your browser, or use a private browsing window. Click here for detailed instructions.