School Board Votes To Avoid Employee Layoffs Despite $90 Million Deficit
January 23, 2013 2:06 p.m.
John Lee Evans, President, Board of Education San Diego Unified School District
Bill Freeman, President, San Diego Education Association
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego's largest school district has started its budget process for the next fiscal year, and the news is better than it's been for quite some time. Last night they voted not to issue employee layoffs for the first time in years. But that doesn't mean the district is completely out of the woods. Officials say the district still still faces an $88†million deficit next year. And here to tell us why is my guest, doctor John Lee Evans, board president of the San Diego unified school president. Welcome back.
EVANS: Thank you very much, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And Bill Freeman is president of the Teachers' Union. Hi, Bill.
FREEMAN: Hi, thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Doctor, is this the first time San Diego unified is looking at the realities of how much the district will get from prop 30 funds. So how much are you expecting from the state?
EVANS: Well, it still needs to be determined, the exact number. We're really happy proposition 30 passed. The governor said he's going to put $1.6†billion into education. If you take San Diego, approximately 2% of that for the state, you come up with a figure of somewhere between $28†million and $32†million that we'll be getting. But our costs go up every year. So we could still end up being behind. So there still is a significant gap we have to fill.
CAVANAUGH: You don't get a number from the state telling you how much state funds are headed your way?
EVANS: State school finance is the most complicated thing. There might be one or two people in the state who know exactly how it works. The governor gives this outline, and experts try to decipher what that means for each district specifically. The he's introducing some new ideas in terms of giving some more money to districts who have higher poverty and so forth. But all the details of that haven't been fleshed out. Of the superintendent said at the beginning of the month he hoped we would get at least 500 additional to maintain steady with our programs. And at this point it looks like we're getting about half of that.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. So you were hoping for more money from prop 30.
CAVANAUGH: In your understanding, was the money collected by prop 30 tax supposed to restore state funding to schools or just stop state cuts to schools?
EVANS: No, it's definitely there to restore funding. And the program the governor has set up is over seven years to bring more money into education funding. The first year is about 10%, $1.6†billion. The so we're at the bottom of the valley here. So the challenge right now is how to maintain stability for the year in the meantime. And a couple things happen. One is the taxes are just starting, so they have to come in and be collected, and the other is dependent on a steady economic recovery.
CAVANAUGH: So you're not getting quite as much as you hoped for from the state. Why is there still a looming $88†million deficit projected for the district?
EVANS: One of the reasons is we have held onto as many programs as we possibly could. Last year we came up with concessions from the union to keep all of our teachers on board. But that was a 1-year solution in terms of the concessions that they made. And we can't keep going back and asking for more and more concessions. As our costs go up, we need to have an increasing amount of money from the state. After this year, it's conceivable that we will be on a steady plain after that point.
CAVANAUGH: Once you get through the next fiscal year, 2013/14, you're saying that's the end of deficits?
EVANS: We will be very close, either there or close to it at that point, and we'll then be on the upward trend in terms of being able to restore some programs. Right now, we're just looking at stability. And there's nothing that brings more instability to a district than layoffs. And part of the problem is we're going down this track, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, we made as few cuts as we possibly could. And we don't want at the last minute to derail the train.
CAVANAUGH: Since there's still so much uncurrent about where this budget is going to go, why close the door to the possibility of layoffs in the next fiscal year?
EVANS: Well, because of the instability that it brings to the district. If we had a system where on the first day of school or ahead of time we knew how much money we were going to have, it's a very crazy system. So that's the whole problem. What typically happens is layoff notices are issued, it creates turmoil in the district, people lose their positions at their schools, are then later they're called back. The kids have different teachers at different will schools. It disrupts the whole process.
CAVANAUGH: So you decided not to take that route this time in good hopes that the amount of money that the state has promise side going to find its way to San Diego unified.
EVANS: Well, are we understand that we need to reduce our staff, and we are looking at reducing our staff by a few hundred, even the teaching staff. But the way we're going to do it is through targeted attrition. We have several hundred people leave each year. Each person that leaves we're going to do everything possible not to replace that position. That will require some cooperation with our unions, adjustment in class sizes at particular schools and so forth so that we can get by without having those teachers. But that way we're in control of where we place the teachers and what happens. Layoffs are just a meat cleaver. You cut everybody off. Last year, one of our elementaries had 26 out of 28 of our teachers were going to lose their jobs. Of with the attrition model, we can control if this school needs one more teacher or this school needs one less, we can move them around and make that happen. And the unions understand we need to reduce our staff, but this is a more reasonable way of doing it.
CAVANAUGH: One more question before I bring Bill Freeman into the conversation. One of the district's plans as I understand it, if the prop money comes through as expected is to give teachers raises that were deferred last year. And some people are questioning if that is the best use of Prop 30 money.
EVANS: Well, the issue about the raises is they have been deferred and deferred. They are not getting their full raises at this point. We have a formula depending on how much money we're getting in. They will get a portion of that. So we will have some slight increases in raises. We're also looking at restoring furlough days. Furlough days benefit the students and obviously they benefit the teachers in terms of those are more days to work.
CAVANAUGH: Bill, some people are pointing to that, the in fact that the teachers are going to get the raises that they -- that were deferred as saying ah, here's the real priority for Prop 30 money, and that is to boost salaries for teachers. What's your take on that? What's your argument when you hear that kind of criticism?
FREEMAN: Well, it's sad that anyone would say that. Teachers have to make a living as well. And the teachers in San Diego unified are among the lowest paid educators in the county. They have been for some while. The raise that was bargained some while ago was deferred last year because of the fact that the educators put the kids first. They did not want to see class sizes increase. They did not want to see around 1,200 teachers laid off and did not want to create turmoil in the district. I just think that we have to realize that we all need to make a living. As a teacher's pay has been level for quite some time, everything around us is going up. And that's happening around this country. When you look at other employees, they are getting raises somewhere sooner or later. And in spite of being some of the lowest pays teachers in this county, teachers still spend thousands of dollars every year on their kids in the classroom. And I think we need to take that into account. I really think it's unfair for people to say, well, that's a real priority. The priority is in the classroom. Keeping the educators in the classroom, keeping the kids in this district, and providing the proper education.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, let me give you a rest there. Your cellphone is not sounding too great.
[ LAUGHTER ]
FREEMAN: Oh, I'm sorry.
CAVANAUGH: Just hold on a second. Doctor Evans, how will the district -- you're projecting an $88†million deficit. How will -- how are you going to balance the budget if indeed that level of deficit remains?
EVANS: Well, be we're leaving no stone unturned. We look at every program, and we found $100,000 year, there, all small cuts all over the place. But we had to make the decision really between property sales and layoffers. And we decided that if there was any here where what's sometimes criticized as a 1-time fix, if there's any that's appropriate, it's in this adjustment year when we're just about to start going up. That's the right time to do it. Kids are only seniors one year, and they're not going to lose out am
CAVANAUGH: So the district is planning to sell off some of its property as a 1-time solution this year because you have good hopes that this is the last year for any sizeable deficit.
EVANS: Right. And the other issue is that we hope that some of the property sales will be able to go to some long-term investments, if we're able to make enough cuts in other areas. We have year-round schools, and traditional school, if everybody is in the same calendar, we can save several million dollars in operating expenses. But it requires an investment upfront to make the transition from one year to the next.
CAVANAUGH: Bill Freeman, is the teachers' union on board with that change from a year-round school to the sort of traditional school year for most schools?
FREEMAN: Well, we can't argue that. That's really not -- the main thing, our main concern is that we keep the educators in the classrooms and we make the kids a priority. And if we need to go to 1†calendar year, all the school, I don't think you'll find many educators who would complain about that.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, doctor Evans, my last questions to you, I want to ask a couple of nonbudget related questions. Yesterday in taking into consideration December's school shooting in Connecticut, the School Board approved a resolution to improve school safety. And an interesting aspect of that includes partnering with the San Diego psychological association. Tell us about that.
EVANS: Sure. And I'm actually a member of the San Diego psychological association myself. But my colleagues contacted me, volunteered to step in and help out. And what they really want to do is to work with teachers. A lot of teachers have questions to ask. How do we see the warning signs? What's to watch for when children are in trouble? We're going to have some training to meet with the teachers, to give us ideas, how it look out for the warning signs, and get people the proper mental health treatment they need.
CAVANAUGH: Is that in lieu of medical professionals at the schools? School psychologists?
EVANS: School psychologists are mainly working on psychoeducational assessmentps in terms of placement of kids. Councils are very overloaded and primarily working on placing kids in classes and getting them into college. We do not have enough mental health resources in the schools. Of the teachers are on the frontline, and they need the information about what to watch for.
CAVANAUGH: Bill, when I heard about this, I thought that sounds like a good idea. But on the other hand, does that give teachers more responsibility to actually try to spot kids who are having difficulty? They're not trained psychologists.
FREEMAN: Well, they aren't trained psychologists, but we do that anyway. We identify kids with problems in one area or another in our assessments and we take actions as appropriate. And that's just one more function that teachers do anyway. Will this is just allowing the teachers to do it a bit better because they will have been trained to identify the problem students.
CAVANAUGH: Is anybody thinking of this as an extra responsibility for teachers?
FREEMAN: Well, we're not, because we do these things anyway. We assess our students and identify kids with problems. We're around them more than most people, other than their parents and families.
CAVANAUGH: Got it.
FREEMAN: So no, we don't look at it as an added responsibility. It's not something that -- it's not putting more things on our plate. It's doing the same thing that we're doing but it's training us to do it better.
CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Okay. And doctor Evans, the School Board also weighed in against the restart of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Why did you do that?
EVANS: Well this was brought up by trustees Barnett and -- excuse me, not Barnett. Barera, and Kevin Beiser. They were concerned about safety issues. I just support it because it's to make sure that proper procedures are done before the reactors are restarted.
CAVANAUGH: And when will San Diego unified in this kind of Byzantine budgeting structure, when will you guys get a clearer picture of how much state funding you're going to get?
EVANS: When we really get the picture is every year when the state legislator approves the budget. That's the final word. We have to make every plan and every contingency up until then, and we'll plan for every possible then. But it's really by June when the state has to adopt the budget. That's when we know exactly how much money we have. And when we have a democratic governor and legislator, there is no chance the legislator is going to say we want to give less money to the schools than the governor is asking for. It may go up, but it's not going to go down.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. Thank you both.
EVANS: Thank you.
FREEMAN: You're very welcome.