SD School Board Trustees On The Record About Budget Crisis
November 7, 2011 1:11 p.m.
Scott Barnett, trustee for the San Diego Unified School District Sub-District C.
Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego Unified School District's board of education.
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CAVANAUGH: A controversial plan of new taxes and pay cuts is proposed for San Diego unified. This is KPBS Midday Edition. School trustee Scott Barnett wants voters to approve a parcel tax and teachers to take a pay cut. He says it will save city schools from insolvency. He'll hear his plan and what kind of chance it has to pass.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Monday, November†7th. Our top story is Midday Edition, the San Diego Unified School District says it's facing another huge budget gap. Deficit estimates are between 70 and $100†million fending on state tax revenues. Average years of budget cutting, the district's money options are running thin. Scott Marks says he has a plan to welcome city schools solvent. I'd like to welcome Scott Barnett. Welcome to the show.
BARNETT: Good morning, Maureen. Or afternoon.
CAVANAUGH: Well, can you give us the basics of your proposal?
BARNETT: Yes, the basics are that there would be a cross-the-board salary cut of approximately 10% of all employees. However, employees over a certain range, high end income, if you will, will have a higher%age, and it would have a scaling down, employees below would have no pay cut at all. But at the same time, this would help pay for continuing the school year back to 180†days. It's had 175†days now. And the last thing is to move our healthcare to a direction where everyone right now gets free healthcare, but under this plan everyone would get free Kaiser healthcare, and if you want a more premium plan, you have to pay. That would save us $12†million. If this goes through, the idea is, there would be a parcel tax on the November†2012 ballot to make up the pay cut that employees have taken, and that would go in effect as of January†13th. So it would only be a six-month of the actual duration of the pay cut, if the voters approve that.
CAVANAUGH: Now, we just had a parcel tax on the ballot last election, and it didn't pass. Didn't get the 2/3 majority it needed
CAVANAUGH: Why do you think that the parcel tax would pass this time?
BARNETT: I think for a couple reasons. I think the problem has a much greater understanding of the dire state of the finances of the state for education, and the school district. The cuts have actually laid off teachers this year. And that hasn't happened in the last few years. Plus a lot of other classroom related cuts. Secondly, that parcel tax was essentially tied to the fact that the School Board had proposed a raise for employees that would go into effect next year. And I think there was a sense that the School Board need needed to run its operations better before giving a raise. Well, at this point employees would be taking a pay cut, I believe most people including myself don't believe our employees should have a pay cut. And there'd be a very simple equation. If you believe we should continue to pay them what they're being paid now, which a lot of us believe is not enough, then you should support this measure
CAVANAUGH: When you made this proposal, teachers said you were making cuts on the backs of teachers. Now, doesn't the teachers' union have to agree to reopen its contract in order for your plan to actually succeed?
BARNETT: Yes. And, in account, any attempt to renegotiate the contract right now under the contract next year, July†1st, the start of the school year, the furlough days will disappear, and it'll go back to 180†days. To continue those would take an agreement of the teachers 'union. That's about a $17†million a year hit. There's a proposed raise to go in effect July†1st of next year, of some $20†million. There is general talk out there about maybe seeing whether the unions will give up those concessions. Last year, in fact, the entire board unanimously asked that the unions come and talk to us about that. So, yes, ultimately they need to agree. But the bottom line is, I think, all the groups saw that we made cuts of teachers this last year. This was essentially a laborer School Board voted and laid off teachers. This board is not joking. This isn't a game. The numbers are real. And so I think the reality is that short of this, we are going to have either humans and humans of teacher layoffs, or the district could go to the edge of insolvency.
CAVANAUGH: In now, you haven't actually presented this plan to the School Board. You were going to last week but you decided to pull it and give yourself a lot bit more time. Why did do you that?
BARNETT: Most obviously the part that people and employees are focusing on the last is a pay cut. And I understand. I met with a dozen teachers on Friday, and every single one of them said we're living close to the edge as it is. I understand that. I don't know anyone out there who doesn't know someone who's lost a job, lost pay. We all do. It's tough times. So what I decided I needed to do, and I'm almost done is I'm trying to quantify specifically the sliding scale of the cuts. So over a certain amount, the percentage would be X. Under a certain amount -- and it would have a sliding scale. So that way when I (this to the board, the board, are the public, the employees can all see specifically what the impact will be on individual employees and ranges of employees. That way, we're talking about something more tangible and real instead of just sort of a broad proposal.
CAVANAUGH: Now, the way you're describing this is with a sense of great urgency, and of course we have heard from the School Board raising the specter of insolvency. The school district not being able to pay its bills. But since your plan needs the cooperation of voters and the unions and the school board even to move forward --
BARNETT: It's a trifecta there, yes.
CAVANAUGH: Wouldn't you characterize this as a longshot, scat Scott?
BARNETT: Having grownup in the Del Mar, and we had the race track, I guess I'm used to longshots. Look, first of all, the plan -- the two pieces of it we need to have obviously the School Board approval initially, and the unions. And is that the pay cuts, continuing or eliminating the furlough days to make sure -- although that's currently under the contract. But we want to make sure to go back to 180†days to extend the school year. We would have to approve that. Then if that's approved, then I would support a parcel tax to put it on the ballot. But yes, these are desperate times. And my goal is -- as I know all my colleagues' are are to see if we can avoid layoffs, avoid putting the district in a worse financial condition, maintain our educational services. My goal is to do that within areas that we actually control locally. While I'd love it and I hope the state gives us more money, they owe us more money, we deserve more money, they haven't given us what we need. But we've spent more than we have. And I believe us trying to control our destiny locally, that's my job as a School Board member.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you have said that if you knew what this job was going to be like, you wouldn't have taken it. That is a really rather resounding criticism of what's going on in San Diego unified. I wonder why did you say that?
BARNETT: I don't recall when or where I said that, but it was probably justice a moment of frustration -- and I volunteered for this job. I campaigned for it, and I'm trying to do the best I can. But it is extremely difficult to do the right things for the right reason because there are so many pressures which make it difficult to do so. It's a lot more work than I thought it was. All myy colleagues, I think, I understand that. But we all have moments where we're tired and frustrated through the difficulty of making tough decisions that affect people's lives. But I think just probably a moment of where I happened to be tired and frustrated and we all go that through our careers in life and so forth. So I'm committed to this job and committed to try to save the district from insolvency, fix its photocopieses in the long-term, and hopefully improve the level and quality of education for our students.
CAVANAUGH: When do you expect that you're actually going to submit this proposal to the San Diego unified school trustees?
BARNETT: I'm hoping within the next couple weeks. I just need to confirm when exactly our regular meeting dates are. I'm hoping in the next couple weeks. I 78 very close to having the numbers final. But I want to make sure they're accurate because once I release the impact on people's salaries, obviously people are gonna know, at least under this proposal, what the real impact is. The bottom line is, in this plan is it doesn't require us to sell land, it doesn't require us to close school, it doesn't require us to increase class size. It doesn't require -- it maintains the levelef education programs that they're at today, doesn't those cuts in our programs. And it also doesn't harm our financial reputation further. As you know, moody's and Standard and Poor's have both down graded our credit essentially because of the management of our finances. The use of 1-time revenues, reserves, and other things to balance our budget. We need to be cognizant of all those issues. This plan will accomplish those goals and balance our budget.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Scott Barnett, a member of the School Board. Thanks very much for coming in and speaking with us.
I'd like to introduce a new guest. San Diego Unified School Board president Richard Barrera. Welcome to the the show
BARRERA: Thanks for having me on.
CAVANAUGH: I don't know how much of the Scott Barnett interview you just heard, but what do you think about his plan for a pay cut for teachers and a parcel tax on the ballot?
BARRERA: Well, I think -- first of all, as I think you covered in your interview, Scott hasn't actually brought his plan forward to the board. So it's a little bit hard for me to comment on specific elements of a plan that I haven't seen. I think obviously the goals that Scott's trying to get at, how do we maintain our educational programs while avoiding physical catastrophe on the district, we all share. But I think in terms of how we get there, I don't believe and read in either of what sound like the major elements of Scott's plan, I don't believe that we balance the budget on the backs of our employees, especially our teachers and our bus drivers, our custodian, people who've already taken a pay cut in the last couple of years who don't make very much money, and in fact, often make less than they need to really support their families, but are out there educating our kids every day. I don't think we put the burden of solution solely on our employees. And while I do absolutely believe that more revenue has to come into the district, I think we're going to have better alternatives than to go back to another parcel tax, which a majority of San Diegans supported last year, but I just don't believe it's realistic to get through the 2/3 vote. I think instead what we're going to see are state-wide initiatives that ask voters throughout California to, for instance, make targeted tax increases on people at the very top of the economic scale in order to support our public schools. I think those are NO.†1 fairer proposals, and have a lot more realistic shot at passing than to go back to another parcel tax that would require a 2/3 vote.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for answering that as completely as you did. I want to get in a couple of points though. The School Board has been criticized for not making tough decisions like requiring pay cuts or pushing for pay cut enforce employees and so forth. And also just recently stopping the school closure process that would have saved money. Doing a sort of an about-face on that and not going through with closing schools and saving several million dollars by doing that. Why did you decide not to close schools?
BARRERA: Well, the school closure specifically -- speaking as one board member, I never believed that there was much in the way of cost savings there. We were talking about, at most, a few million dollars being saved if 10 to 12 schools were closed. And I don't actually believe we would have realized those savings, because I think a number of parents would have taken their kids out of the the district. As a cost saving proposal, I didn't believe the school closure process was leading us in the right direction. But also, I didn't believe that the way we -- I think our there is fee for the last -- philosophy for the last several years has been try to balance the budget in the way that protects the kids as much as possible. And that's what we've been doing. Of course we've made tough decisions, hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to our budget over the last several years. Increased class sizes, shortened the school year, canceled program, reduced nurses, counselor, made incredibly difficult decisions. At the same time, I think we've been able to preserve the opportunity for excellent in our schools that has led to the highest achievement scores in the history of the district over the last few years. I think our philosophy needs to be -- we have to continue to balance the needs of our kids against the obviously will need to keep the district solvent, and we'll continue to do that. I don't think closing was going to help us much on this side, and it's going to be deserve stating to kids in those schools
BARNETT: Let me stop you there. There is a question that the San Diego teachers' union has raised about whether there is a real threat of insolvency or not. They say it's exaggerated, and they point to the 7 million plus that the district has in reserves. Is there a real threat of insolvency?
BARRERA: There's a little a threat of insolvency. There is no $70†million in reserves. If anything, and this is where I think Scott is correct, in an attempt to keep these cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, we've run down our reserves over the last several years. There's no $70†million in reserve. Every dollar that we have available that can be invested in the classroom is being invested in the classroom. The issue is if the state goes forward and makes mid-year cuts to education, we are going to see, you know, an unsustainable level of funding not just for San Diego unified but for school districts throughout the state. And what we need to be doing is the community right now is making our voice heard loud and clear that we simply can't take further cuts to education.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, be last question because I'm running out offim too. You did want to have a discussion on our show with Scott Barnett. I'm wondering why not? Is it because there's friction among members of the School Board?
BARRERA: No, no. I think in particular, we have open meeting laws. So if there's a proposal that's going to come forward before the board, we have to discuss those proposals together as a board in an open meeting. We can't discuss those away from the board meeting. So there's that element of basic open meeting laws that we have to respect. I think what I'm confident about is that everybody on the board, the superintendent, we're all trying to get toward the same goals, and we're probably going to have some different ways of getting there. The superintendent is actually going to layout on Tuesday night some various scenarios and various options for dealing with how much revenue we actually might have available. I think we need to get-together with the board and listen to the superintendent. And then we're going to have debates. That's what democracy is all about.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right
BARRERA: But yeah, we have to do it theerate way and respect the open meeting process
CAVANAUGH: I understand. Y I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today. San Diego Unified School Board president, Richard Barrera
BARRERA: Thank you, Maureen.