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SD Unified Sounds Alarm For Devastating Cuts

October 14, 2011 11:06 a.m.


Bill Kowba, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District.

Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego Unified School District's board of education.

Related Story: SD Unified Sounds Alarm For Devastating Cuts


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego's revolutionary design and craft movement steps into the spotlight. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Thursday, October 13th. Our top story on Midday Edition, the last time we talked about San Diego City school finance, the news was guardedly optimistic. Last summer, state revenue was up, millions in cuts were restored to school district, but now state revenue projections are dramatically down, and the San Diego Unified School District is looking at some drastic fiscal realities including possible insolvency. My guest, Bill Kowba is superintendent of the San Diego unified school district. Welcome back to the show.

KOWBA: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what happened? As I say, the last time you were here, the district was actually hiring back some of the hundreds of teachers that you had to lay off.

KOWBA: That's true. We began with a process that required us to cut over $100 million to balance for the 11/12 school year. We did that in late June, then shortly after that, the governor and legislature came to agreements to restore some moneys, but with a critical condition. And that was that the state would meet its projected revenues, estimates for another $4 billion. And that if the certain phase tests weren't satisfied in the December time frame, the governor would review the projections and the actuals to date, and to make a decision based on the budget law that was passed. In the July August time frame, there were folks that were, I think guardedly optimistic that we would safeguard education, and that would not have to experience the cut cuts. But through this past Tuesday, we are now 0 for three in the sense that we have missed in July, August, and September, meeting the projections as we sit and speak right now the state is down below its projections by $705 million. That track all wait through it December would lead us to the expectation the governor will have to cut education, and or any of the other public sector activities in accordance with a formula. K-12 education would be among the lesser public sector entities cut. We'd have to meet at least two billion of the $4 billion target. But the current under estimation reality check is that he probably won't have sufficient funds to protect K-12 education. In the case of San Diego unified, worst case, that's $30 million at mid-year. The state allowed us to exercise the right to cut another seven days of school to mitigate that cut. But the truth is, a great number of, if not about half the school districts in this state have closed collective bargaining agreements and don't have the wherewithal to exercise that option.

CAVANAUGH: Let me mark sure that I'm following you, Bill Kowba, and that is that if the summer time they were projecting an increase in tax revenues. Now they are seeing that's not happening, that we're not hitting the marks that they -- the state building requires us to hit. And therefore when these -- the triggers HAVE triggered, in December, that means that that cut comes out of your projected revenue; is that right?

KOWBA: It will come out of our current year budget allocation. Of the funds we have right now to fun the school district. So we're discussing the possibility that come January, the governor says $30 million less out of our school district, and an appropriate amount out of other districts. And that's at a halfway point where we have teachers in classrooms, we're running food service operations, driving buses, meeting all the day to day needs of a school district.

CAVANAUGH: As I said in the beginning, San Diego unified has been facing cuts and cuts year after year. I know that shrinks the amount of money you have to play around with, at least in your reserves and so forth. What makes this year then different that you're actually starting to talk about insolvency?

KOWBA: Well, I think after several years of deep cut accident now to the point of having over $450 million cuts, we have gone well into the bone. This is no longer a superficial cut. If you play this out, if we have cuts of 30 million mid-year, our cut for next year would be in excess of $100 million. There is not enough we can do to cut and still run quality education programs. And I would argue we're on the margin right now with larger class sizes, smaller staffs, and slashed economic programs.

CAVANAUGH: Richard Barrera is here; president of the San Diego unified school district's board of education. Welcome.

BARRERA: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: You called upon San Diegans to reach out to state legislatures to ask for more support for schools. Do you have an idea where that -- the state could get more money for schools?

BARRERA: Absolutely. And so does the state. Here are a few examples. The State of California is the only oil producing state in the country that doesn't tax oil production. A very minor tax on oil production could yield a couple of billion dollars. We haven't taxed alcohol in 20 years. Very small, you know, a dime a drink tax on alcohol could bring in another couple of billion dollars. If the one percent -- if the wealthiest 1% of Californians paid an additional 1% in income tax, that could bring in upwards of $3 billion. If any of those things that happened, we wouldn't be having these conversations. And it's interesting because many of those wealthy Californians I think you saw a forum that President Obama conducted in silicon valley a few weeks ago, where a guy stand up and said you will please tax me? There were people who have been asking, can you tax me? We can afford it. Our schools can't afford this continued level of cuts. Very clear choices in front of the legislature. However, as you well know, we're in a situation in California where just over -- if a third of the legislature wants to hold the rest of us hostage and just say absolutely no to any sort of revenue increase, for any purpose, they can, and that's what the world that we've been living in for self years.

CAVANAUGH: Let me just interrupt you if I may, because I just really do want to get into what the critics are saying. And they're basically saying that you lost your opportunity last year to make some real concessions with teachers unions and then save a bunch of money for San Diego unified school district. And now as Mr. Kowba is saying, you don't have that option because that contract is already made. What do you say to critics who say this is partially your fault?

BARRERA: I think they have to understand what's happening and read the contracts. This year as well as last year, all of the teachers in our district as well as all of the employees in our district have been take pay cuts. Pay cuts. So our employee, who, by the way, don't make a lot of money, our teachers barely make enough to support their families, our support staff, our business drivers and custodians and landscapers don't make enough money to support their families, and yet they have been reaching into their pockets for the last couple of years and sacrificing, the contract that we negotiated a couple years ago where we've got some raises that are coming into place next year as well as the restoration of days of school that we've lost, which is the right thing to do, that's something that we're having discussions right now with our bargaining units about seeing if we can manage that. But it's not like those employees don't deserve those raises. If we're in a position that we need to figure out a way to put those off, I'm confident that we will figure out those solutions. But here's the important point. With mid-year cuts, we can do all of that. All of our employees can take further concessions and we won't be anywhere close to being able to balance our budget. It's a revenue problem. We don't have the revenue we need to properly run our schools, and that's a choice that people in Sacramento need to make.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I am so sorry, but we are just absolutely out of time. We're going to have to have both of you back and talk more about this because the kinds of things that were said during the school meeting this week about insolvency, possible state take over, they need to be explored and explained to our listeners. I want to thank you both borrow coming in and speaking with us today.

BARRERA: Thanks Maureen.

KOWBA: Thank you Maureen.