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S.D. Unified Officials Discuss Budget Cuts, Community-Based School Reform

Audio

Aired 12/13/10

The San Diego Unified School District board is facing some difficult choices as it discusses how to cut potentially $141 million from the budget for next school year. Superintendent Bill Kowba and Board President Richard Barrera join us to discuss the district's financial challenges. What's the best way to cut the deficit and provide a quality education for the district's students? What role should parents play in the decision-making process? And, what are the chances that district teachers could be let go in the next year?

The San Diego Unified School District board is facing some difficult choices as it discusses how to cut potentially $141 million from the budget for next school year. Superintendent Bill Kowba and Board President Richard Barrera join us to discuss the district's financial challenges. What's the best way to cut the deficit and provide a quality education for the district's students? What role should parents play in the decision-making process? And, what are the chances that district teachers could be let go in the next year?

Guests

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

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

Read Transcript

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.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I'm Alison St. John sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. From time to time, we invite the top leaders of the San Diego unified school district to come into studio on These Days and talk about what's going on in city schools. The board is facing increasingly difficult choices right now, has to find more than a hundred million dollars in cuts from the bottoming for next school year, and that's more than the City of San Diego's facing. And the budgets are comparable. The district superintendent and School Board president join us, and we'll also be talking about why San Diego unified believes community based reform could be the best way to improve student achievement throughout the district, and find out what city schools are doing to improve the drop out rate and reduce absentees at local schools. And we want to hear from you. What do you think should be San Diego Unified's priorities? Anything you want to ask your school superintendent or the president of the board, you can give us a call 1-888-895-5727. So I'd like to welcome our guests, Bill Kowba, that's great to see you in studio here, superintendent of the school district. Welcome, good morning.

BILL KOWBA: Thank you, Alison. Good morning.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And Richard Barrera, president of the school board. Thanks for coming.

RICHARD BARRERA: Thanks Alison, thanks for having us on.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So I've heard a couple different numbers for the budget this year, 120, 121. What exactly is the district facing.

BILL KOWBA: Well, based on the governor's adopted budget of October, and all the assumptions that we have at this point, we assert that the deficit as we know today is somewhere above a hundred and $20 million. And there are a lot of different factors that play into that. That includes what the federal stimulus dollar decision making will be. We know that we're gonna lose funds at the end of the year. We also know that there's some federal jobs money that's become available to us recently. So there's some puts and takes, but currently before governor elect brown makes his decisions in January, we conclude that our deficit is over a hundred and $20 million.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Ask is it true to say that your budget is not that -- is it bigger or smaller? It's not that far different from the City of San Diego's right.

BILL KOWBA: There are differences between the city, and the school district in terms of size and guiding principles and code. And the education code, education budget, drives our decision making as compared to the city government. But there are parallels that you can draw. We're both in deep challenged environments now to find the way to cut costs, manage our revenues, and accommodate the needs of our customers, our kids.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Uh-huh. Yes. So Richard, you're on the board here.

RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And you're the ones who are taking the lead for deciding the priorities of where to make these cuts. What are some of the possible cuts that the board is suggesting for next year?

RICHARD BARRERA: Well, if we're looking at a hundred and $20 million, which again is what we're basing our assumptions on, we're really looking at devastating cuts to our kids. So if you begin with the youngest students, kindergarten through third grade students, we're talking about increasing class size from what's now about 24 kids in a class to 30 kids in a class. We know from our own experience and from national research that those young students really should be in classes more like 15, 16 students to one of that's where you see kids really make progress, and it's really important that kids at the beginning have an opportunity to accelerate their education. Because we have kids, you know, when they're five years old or younger when they come into our district, who are already behind. About two thirds of the kids in our district are on frame reduced lunch, and if you compare the situation of kids coming into school who are in struggling environments in their families to, you know, to kids who are coming in with both parents having gone to college, maybe both parents -- you've got kids that are ready well behind before they come into school. If you have the small class size early on, those kids can catch up, be reading by third level at third grade, and they're gonna be fine going forward. But if they get further behind in those early years, it becomes very difficult for them to catch up, and a lot of kids get on track to dropping out of school. So increasing those class sizes and those early grades, you know, is really gonna be a big problem. And we're also looking at the possibility of cutting kindergarten from full day to half day.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Oh, boy.

RICHARD BARRERA: Most of what the national research tells us is kids should be in the school day a little bit longer, and we're talking about, you know, cutting it in half for kindergartners of so that's just with our youngest kids. Then we talk about the possibility of eliminating all counselors in the district. That would have an incredibly, you know, damaging impact. Not only on individual kids but on the ability of teachers to be able to teach to all kids in their class. If they don't have an ability to -- if a kid has a particular need, and the teacher can't refer that kid to a counselor, that's gonna affect all the kids in the classes. We're talking about devastating cuts to our school nursing program. A lot of our kids, their primary health provider is the school nurse. You know, we have large numbers of kids and families who don't have health insurance, so the school nurse is the primary health provider. You know, and you just go from there. Of you talk about shutting down schools, cutting bussing to schools, significantly cutting school police force, cutting vice principals, so at the high school level, school just becomes less safe.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Right.

RICHARD BARRERA: This is the picture that we're looking at if we have to cut a hundred and $20 million.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And I mean, it's in the like you're just starting to make these cuts right now.

RICHARD BARRERA: Right.

ALISON ST. JOHN: You've already been cutting.

RICHARD BARRERA: Exactly right.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So class sizes presumably right now are not what you would like.

RICHARD BARRERA: Class size this last year went this year from kindergarten to third grade from 20 to 21, because of budget cuts that we had to make previously. And when you get above the third grade, you go into a fourth grade class and you can already see 30, 35 kids in a class.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Whoa.

RICHARD BARRERA: Middle school, high school, larger numbers than that, California, up, we've talked about this before, Allison, California went a generation ago from being the best public school system in the country to when we looked up a couple years ago before the budget cuts, we have slipped to number 47. And that's before the devastating budget cuts of the last couple of years of so you're exactly right that the school system not just in San Diego but in California simply cannot deal with further cuts.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And bill, in terms of, you must be sort of communicating with colleagues in other districts. Is this level of cuts, like, increasing class size in San Diego schools similar to what other districts are doing or are you actually having to increase sizes bigger.

BILL KOWBA: The 42 school districts in the county as well as the thousand across the state are all in that same position of having cut as much as they could over the last 3 to 4 years, going after the easy, most obvious away from the classroom strategies to a point in time where we all have to face the same realities of touching the classroom. As Richard notes, our class sizes have gone up, they have gone up across much of the county and the state. We've seen a reduction in the enrichment courses and the support for the kids at the campus level. I talked to an ever sobering by true reality of a lost generation of kids. If you were a kindergartner enrolled about 2007, and you moved forward, you're in about the third grade now or so, all we have done is reduce the opportunities for you as a student. Of course, if you have older siblings moving through our K-12 experience, they have been seeing it. But particularly that kindergartner, if it takes about another three to four years to get out of this state wide budget crisis, and how it hinges on public education, that particular student will have spent 6 to 7 years in an environment we were just reducing the quality of the experience. The only thing we have increased for these students is class sizes as Richard pointed out. So it's just a horrible reality. And hopefully for those before and after, they'll miss this lost generation, but we've gotta do all we can to recover the lost generation.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Boy, when you put it in terms of a lost generation, I mean, presumably you still can reason even if you're in a large class if you're motivated of it's just a lot more challenging.

BILL KOWBA: Absolutely.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Have you been taking as much -- putting as much resources as you can in the younger classes and reducing -- and increasing class size more in the upper classes until now, and now it's gonna have to go down to younger classes, is that what's happening.

BILL KOWBA: Yes, yes, we have done all we could. In fact, the federal stimulus dollars that president Obama provided across the country, our share of that was used to safe guard our class size, particularly from K to the second grade. We used several million of those dollars to focus on protecting the smaller grades and the highest need. About 30 of our schools in our most difficult parts of the district. But that money goes away in June of 2011 and will be back to something much higher than the kids are enjoying right now. Which is about 1 to 70, a very small selective group of the district.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So Richard, I have to ask you whether the union has made any concessions. Because of course that's one of the other things about cutting the cost.

RICHARD BARRERA: Sure.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So what have the teachers put on the table to contribute to the situation?

RICHARD BARRERA: Well, not just the teachers but all of the employees in the district that are represented by different unions upon so you've got the teachers, you've got the bus drivers issue the cafeteria workers, the custodians, the admin clerks, the principals and the administrators, cool police officers. All of those employees have taken pretty significant wage and benefit cuts beginning this year, really historic cuts. So a teacher in our district for instance, the average teacher makes about $64,000 a year. Or did last year. This year, that teacher is giving up about $1,800. And again will give up about $1,800 next year. And you see that across the board. And when we talk about, you know, that level of a wage benefit, of a wage cut, you know, the center on policy initiatives has done its most recent making ends meet study in San Diego County. What does it take to make ends meet? And to be able to raise a typical size family, it takes about $64,000 a year. So our teachers are right this, right on the edge of what it takes to basically make ends meet in this region, and now we're taking a cut. We've got many, many employees that are well below is that level. And so the, you know, the difficulty for us is, at some level, if we're turning the jobs of the professionals who care for our kids into poverty level jobs, we're gonna see impact in terms of the stability, you know, in our work force, the quality in our work force, and the a lot of people to continue to do their job well. But we have seen significant concessions from workers across the different unions.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And bill, when will the district have to make final decisions on what to cut for the next year's budget.

BILL KOWBA: Well, are the ultimate end date is 30 June 2011. That's when all school districts must adopt a budget. But there are critical mile stones look the way. The governor has to release his proposed budget in jeopardy. We will take some time between January and March the 15th to analyze the impacts of his budget, proposed cuts, whether that I be reductions in program or staffing, and we raise to the 15th of March when we have to issue a second interim financial report that has projections for the end of the year, and the years out, and it goes to the county and to the state. By the fifteenth, you make your decisions about layoff strategies for our certificated personnel. We move through April, having to make decisions about staffing adjustments for our classified personnel. The governor then issues a revised budget in May, and based on what the data shows, whether he's got -- has differences in revenues or operating costs, he updates that budget, and then we race from mid May to June to updating in the DOP. So it becomes increasing a race from early January to June.

ALISON ST. JOHN: What's the most critical thing you're waiting on right notice.

BILL KOWBA: Well, clearly governor elect brown's proposals for public education. Public education is almost 50 percent of his budget. And so the realities of his deficit -- and now we're told that the state deficit has creeped from 20 to 25, perhaps to $28 billion. And if we're half that budget, we are really fearful with how he will have to meet his fiscal commitments, that means cuts to education.

ALISON ST. JOHN: A grim picture. We will continue talking about this, and we'd love to hear from you also, if you've got ideas or questions, you can always join us, the number here is 1-888-895-5727. We're speaking with Bill Kowba, superintendant of San Diego unified school district, and Richard Barrera who's the president of the board. We'll be right back.

And you're back on These Days with bill cola, superintendant of San Diego Unified school district, and Richard Barrera, president of the board of the school district, talking about the dire choices that the district is having to make. It just doesn't seem to get any better. And they have a budget deficit facing them next year of somewhere between $120 and a $140 million. One of the new elements of the School Board this year is that there are some new -- there's some new members. ONE of them is Scott Barnett, who many people will remember as president of the taxpayers' association of San Diego some years ago. Who is not an education person by nature, but is very interested in, I think, helping the School Board make the schools work. And he's made some suggestions that I wanted to run by you and see what your reactions were. Scott Barnett is saying that the district needs to have a comprehensive system to keep track of how the money is spent. And you know, immediately that raises questions, bill, about, well, doesn't is have that already?

BILL KOWBA: Well, we have a mix of systems in the school district. An otherwise resource planning system called Peoplesoft that over sees our financial and our human resources as a system, it's been around since 2003 as a implementation. Have tried to make upgrades over the years, have done a number of them, but still need to pursue a refined information management approach. We've also been updating our transportation maintenance and food service systems in the last 2 to 3 years. So we're making good headway, but we welcome Scott's perspective. He has looked at systems in various public sector organizations and has some good ideas that we want to match up with the realities of our own information systems.

ALISON ST. JOHN: He's also saying that there isn't really a good enough system to figure out how many people are absentee that day. Is that something that you could update and --

BILL KOWBA: Yes.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Because obviously when people aren't there, then you don't get the money from the state. So that's a financial implication.

BILL KOWBA: What we have done here, especially in the last six months, is do some terrific things to improve attendance reporting and we're rolling those out now to the point where we can look acrossed over 200 campuses, identify students right down to the grade, the number of days they have been gone, learning what their skill sets are, how it impacts them as an individual student, the cost to the school district. And this refined reporting I think now is bearing results. In fact, we are closing out the full month of the year in terms of attendance calculations issue we've done September, October, November, each of those three consecutive months we have had five-year highs for kids in school. And that's critical on two fronts of first and foremost, we can't teach if the student isn't in school on a consistent basis. And it's just remarkable from elementary to high the way we have been able to get the kids in the classroom. There's a second financial impact to that, is we do earn our basic revenue from the state based on kids in seats. But first and foremost, it's all about the academics, and we're just pleased that the area superintendents and teachers have all come together to impress upon parents and student the value of being in the seat every day. And if this goes on, I think there'll be very positive consequences for the school district on a number of levels.

ALISON ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 is the number to join the conversation. And Cheryl is calling us from Del Mar. Cheryl, thanks for calling. Go right ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello. I'm Cheryl parks and I live in Del Mar. I'm really familiar with the grim picture of schools in our -- San Diego as well as the whole country. And I wanted you to know that I'm impressed with how much you know. And you're really focused on the problems in the budget. But are you aware of the new movement called students first? Where Michelle reed, the ex chancellor of Washington DC schools has taken on this brand-new reformative approach where they look at the special interests that are keeping the budgets impossible to be balanced? Are you aware of that?

ALISON ST. JOHN: Richard, why don't you -- looks like you may have heard of this movement. Have you?

RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah, sure. There's an -- and actually it's nothing new to San Diego. About a decade ago, a little over a decade ago, Allen burr son came in as the superintendant of San Diego schools and was backed as part of what people call a reform movement. And Allen obviously created a lot of change in the district. And I would characterize that change as very much modeled after the corporate sector, and it's very much about centralized change so that the school district becomes the place where you determine what's best for kids and then you impose that change on schools. And it's very controversial. And I think we see now a similar reform style that played out in San Diego over a number of years. Michelle reed, you know, adopted that style in Washington DC, I think we've seen it a little bit in New York City over the last couple of years. I think the big question that I have to ask as a School Board member is, what have been the results of that type of strategy, of that type of reform? And the -- what becomes very clear is when you look at the actual results, the increase or decrease in student achievement, from those types of top down reform models, they cannot holdup, they cannot compare to the type of results that you see coming from schools that have adopted what I consider more of a community based reform model, come is about getting the teachers, the parents, the principal, often the students together on the same page, identifying strategies that make sense for that particular school and then moving forward consistently with that approach. So, you know, it's a big subject. And there are a lot of elements involved in the type of reform that I think maybe Michelle re is advocating.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Let's just ask Cheryl. Cheryl, are those the kinds of reforms that student first is advocating? Oh, I don't know if Cheryl is still there.

NEW SPEAKER: An understanding of what burr son did here in San Diego. Of Michelle is -- this is a brand-new announced group. So I actually wonder if there is ability to look at the special interest groups that have leverage in all the kinds of expenses that we have, plus the legislation that's imposed so many needs and special needs and breaking out expenses to minority demands. And I think that that's an extremely expensive part of your budget. But I don't -- I don't know if you always measure test scores as your way to see about a child's development also. Those are --

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's a good point, Cheryl.

RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah, and if I could just jump in. Boy do I agree with Cheryl on that. And in fact, our school district is pushing forward, I think, really aggressively and maybe more aggressively than most other districts about having other definitions of student achievement, including critical think, including the ability of the student to develop confidence in themselves as a learner. An entire curriculum that looks at not just math and literacy, but science and arts and music. The type of reform, however, that I see advocated by folks like Michelle re I think is very much reductive and is very much focused on test scores as the definition of student achievement. And it's one of the reasons why, I think when you talk to people who are in the schools, working every day with kids, they're gonna come up with a different definition of student achievement, and a different way too get there, than if you talk to people who are, you know, sort of, you know, far removed from kids and making big decisions away --

ALISON ST. JOHN: Success is really quite -- it's not as straightforward I think as people imagine.

RICHARD BARRERA: That's right.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And we don't know what Allen burr son's reforms were similar to the movement that Cheryl is talking about are, but we do know that there was some success with the burr son years, and reading scores improved in some of the younger grades.

RICHARD BARRERA: Well, I think again, if you go to test scores, which is what you're talking about right now, the gains that were achieved during the burr son years in San Diego were either matched or in other large districts in California they did either as well or better during that time. What we've seen over the past few years in San Diego Unified is that within the district we've seen the largest gains, you know, that we've seen, really, since we've started to measure these types of things, and San Diego is now outpacing the other large urban school districts around the country, so again, I don't believe in test scores as the, you know, the be all end up definition of student achievement. But if you rely on test scores, you'd have to say that student achievement has increased significantly after the burr son years, and especially over the last few years.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay. Of let's take another call because we have a lot of people who've got questions here. By the way, the number is 1-888-895-5727. And we're speaking with Richard Barrera, president of the board at the San Diego Unified school district, and Bill Kowba what is the superintendant. Lisa is on the line from college grove. Go ahead, Lisa.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I recall that on a previous episode, your guests said they believe that most of the people in San Diego County had voted for prop J that was supposed to close part of the gap.

ALISON ST. JOHN: ; is that correct, J? You're correct, Lisa.

NEW SPEAKER: I'm just curious, is there a way for some sort of private public foundation to be set up where every one of us that voted yes on that prop could just spend $98 to close that gap. I voted for it, I'm so frustrated that there are people in this county that think that we can have a decent school system without paying for it.

RICHARD BARRERA: Lisa, I obviously really appreciate that point.

ALISON ST. JOHN: This is Richard.

RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah, this is Richard. We did -- the prop J was within the San Diego Unified school district, so it wasn't a county wide initiative, but in the end, 51 percent of the voters voted for prop J. So what we now need to do, and it's part of what we're talking about with the superintendant and our district relations officer, is setting up something like a school district wide foundation where we could take contributions from individuals, especially for, you know, the literally, you know, tens of thousands of people who said I would be willing to spend $98 a year to help the schools. We've gotta develop a capacity to bring those donations in and help. That does, you know, add some costs to create some infrastructure to be able to do that. But just as KPBS, you know, does individual donor drives and a large part of your budget comes from individual donations, I think we have to start to be able to look at that as a school district.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Let's certainly encouraging where you get callers saying we would like to contribute more, isn't it? So it's just a matter of building a system where you could take advantage of that spirit. Lisa, thank you so much for the call. Let's take another call. We've got Tammy in La Jolla who's got a point she would like to make. Tammy, thanks for calling, and go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I have a second grader in the district. And she attends a high performing school. And if I understand it, over the last few years, we haven't received a lot of the extra -- the federal funds that come to the district because of the school's high perform, it's an ark fluent area. Of parents contribute a lot of money to pay for, say, the class size reduction for the enrichment programs, extra science. So my question is, how will these cuts or how will this affect a school like ours which is pretty much receiving the minimum amount of public funding within the district itself already?

ALISON ST. JOHN: Which of you would like to handle that one? Bill?

BILL KOWBA: I can handle that one. Very good question. We try to allow for some equitable funding acrossed all of the schools, especially when it comes to the basic revenue sharing in our general fund unrestricted. Schools that are in different parts of our district from high performing and affluent school areas such as in La Jolla, do not qualify for a lot of federal funding. The title $1 are directed towards high needs, low income households, and as such, while you can have a very affluent and a very successful school campus such as La Jolla or Scripps Ranch or Point Loma, there is not a whole lot of money associated with the restricted special funds either from the state economic impact aid or federal title one. So we try to be very careful, very sensitive to how we use the unrestricted funds for all of the schools. But it's a matter of a sobering reality that some high performing and affluent schools do not qualify for some of these special funds, just based on law. But we'll try to balance in the unrestricted area.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Right. I mean, that's kind of the nature of public education is that by sharing resources, you can get a good education across the board.

BILL KOWBA: Exactly.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And I suppose that is one of the things you're always trying to avoid is having all the resources going to certain schools.

BILL KOWBA: Right. And you know, there is no research, compelling research that will tell you money makes a difference in the quality of an education. Clearly you do need sufficient financial resources to staff the school, to implement the program. But money by itself does not make that difference. It's that focused, energetic teacher in the classroom, a right sized classroom with some supports in the administration of the campus that create the difference in quality education.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I wanted to ask you that later, whether you've got any particular example it is of teachers in the classroom that are really making a difference in spite of lack of resources.

BILL KOWBA: Oh, absolutely.

ALISON ST. JOHN: But let's just take the calls while they're coming in. Hue is calling us from El Cajon. Go ahead, hew, thanks for calling.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, yes, thank you very much for taking my call. And first of all, I wanted to thank the leaders of our school district for coming out to the public and telling them the situation benefit the last election, and for having for money and explaining that if they don't pay the money, they're going to be feeling it. I -- I'm just, you know, astounded that the public did not agree to pay for the extra money for schools. And everywhere out in the public, you hear people saying how important schools are, yet when they're asked to contribute, they refuse to do so. I mean, I would love to be able to give $98 it is more a year. But that's not an option and even voluntarily, it still is not the appropriate action. Everyone must pay to have property schools because everyone benefits. So to that end, I have a suggestion which I know will maybe sound very, very bad, but on the other hand it accomplishes the goals that the gentleman said was appropriate at the beginning of the show. And my suggestion is that they should close La Jolla high school, which would about cover their expense that they're gonna be short. This increases the class size of the older students when La Jolla high school students are bussed to somewhere else, and then also points out to the community that when you don't fund schools, you make hard choices. And I think up to this point, people are not being presented with the hard choices that they force our administrators to make when they don't provide them the basic money that you were just talking about that has to be there in order to create education.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay, hue, we should note, of course that hue lives in El Cajon. And so his pretty radical suggestion is to close La Jolla high school, but actually it may not be that radical because there is talk of closing ten schools to close this gap. Can you talk a bit about that?

RICHARD BARRERA: Sure, and I might not support closing La Jolla high school, but I support the spirit of where he's coming from. You know, part of what we hear a lot of is you guys at San Diego Unified and other school districts, what you do every time that's a budget crisis is you work really hard to shield those cuts from kids, and you ought not to do that. Because until people realize, up, the severity of these cuts, people might not be willing to step up and take action. And you know, as a sort of a political strategy, I get that. But at the end of the day, we've gotta be responsible to kids. And we have to take on that responsibility to look in doing everything we can to shield these, you know, kids from cuts where we can. The point the superintendant is making and where hue is exactly right is, we've exhausted those options. We've cut $400 million over the years for the school district.

ALISON ST. JOHN: What's the over all budget?

RICHARD BARRERA: Well we're talking about -- the overall budget is about a billion dollars in general funds, but the unrestricted portion where we need to make cuts is more in the 6 to $700 million range. So we're talking next year about cutting $120,000,000 from about a $680,000,000, you know, pool of funds.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay. That gives us a picture.

RICHARD BARRERA: There's no way to shield kids anymore from the severity of these cuts. I think the point about -- you know, that we as a society, we as taxpayers, you know, we've gotta make I decision. What I'm hearing is that governor brown is very likely gonna force that decision on all of us. And, you know, I think what I'm hearing is that there's likely to be some sort of special election maybe in June where the governor comes and presents a couple of choices to the voters and says, one way to balance the budget is to continue to make these kinds of devastating cuts. Another way to balance the budget would be some mix of cuttings and revenue, but that would include tax increases, and what's it gonna be? And we can debate about whether the legislature should make those decisions or the voters. We know that in California, we're stuck with a threshold of needing to get two thirds of its -- if the legislature is to raise taxes, we've gotta get two thirds of them to vote. In the case of prop J here in San Diego Unified, we did have a majority of voters that supported it. But because it wasn't a two thirds vote, we weren't able to do that. So we've got some restrictions, you know, in the structure of decision making here. But ultimately, we do as a society need to confront that decision. Are we willing to let the schools and other, you know, important services just simply, you know, wither away? Or are we willing to step up and make some sacrifice, all of us together, to help things keep going in a difficult economic time?

ALISON ST. JOHN: We gotta take a break. I wanted to ask you which of the schools that if all else fails you may have to cut, but we'll did that when we come back. Of and remember if you want to join the show, you can by calling 1-888-895-5727.

And you're become with Bill Kowba, student of San Diego Unified school district, and Richard Barrera, president of the board, talking about what the heck to doing basically as the budget situation gets more and more dire. And we have had quite a few people on the line with questions and suggestions, so let's go back to the phones and speak with Greg from San Diego. Greg, thanks for calling, go ahead with your point.

NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, well, I've been in the IT field for over 15 years, and I also have served as a technology coordinator at the children's school district, and any time I hear cutting costs and also attending my children's school, they always talk about that. Of but it just dawns on me how school districts are not taking advantage of the technology. As a technology coordinator, I was involved in trying to get programs going, trying to put things on line, and you know, what happened to Ebooks? What's happening with stop printing so much paper to send home? Why not e-mail it? And what happens to teleconferences and web sessions and that type of stuff?

ALISON ST. JOHN: Are you talking about perhaps distance learning even? Or is that going a bit far?

NEW SPEAKER: That may even be a possibility. I just met a company out here in Chula Vista, they have had should kind of educational fair, and it was a guy that was a prior principal at one of the children's school district. And he started something like that. He has only a team of six members, he's trying to get an Elearning type of high school reading going, and again, I happened that there's a learning curve, I understand that not every family has a computer. But every time we attend the school, we know that at least 50 percent of parents have a computer at home. You're talking about 50 percent possibility of saving just at that school site. Can we imagine if we were to expand that throughout the whole state? And that's just my comment.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay. Greg, well, some people would question whether you'd get kids to operate efficiently at home with a computer or whether you need that classroom environment to keep the learning happening of but Greg does make a good point that technology is advancing. How are you using that, bill, to help make things more efficient and run less expensively.

BILL KOWBA: I think technology is really an emerging success in San Diego Unified. We're in the second year of a five-year technology insertion program. As a result of the great approval of the voters in 2008, we had a construction bond accepted, and the board of education agreed that the first part of this building period would be all about technology to a large degree. So we are in fact rolling out 7200 smart classrooms where we'll have Promethean boards, Wi-Fi, Internet connection, and the ability for kids to learn in a very interactive way with the technology and the teacher having a very solid education conversation. But it's more than that. We also have the state's first certified public education virtual high school. It's I- High, it has a primary campus at the Ballard center, the former Freeman education center in old town, and a satellite, we have over 60 kids enrolled in this on line education, and another 500 dual enrollment. We are partnered with the Department of Education and Poway unified in developing an on line course. We have been advocating with our county legislatures to push the education code to adjust the technology, and come up with new ways for kids to learn in a virtual setting and for a school district to monitor, mentor and take credit for that education. We've also outside of the academic side of the school district, on the business side, we have widened our website information sharing, standardized websites issue both at the school districts and at the central office. Many, many of the things we do today are on line, ranging from payrolls, being managed that way rather than the old stubs being printed and sent out to 15000 employees, to ending the ever ending printing of hard copy. So recognize the caller's right on the mark with technology. But it works on two fronts in a school district, on the business side and in the economic environment. And you just watch San Diego Unified as we really take off with this smart classroom and the online education over the next few years.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Good, interesting. Okay, there's a couple of points that I wanted to follow up on, one was the idea that some schools may have to be closed. And some parents may be thinking, oh, my goodness. Is my school on the chopping block? Richard can you gives any idea as to where that plan is headed?

RICHARD BARRERA: Well, a couple of years ago, actually, the district went through a point of the task force to develop criteria for, you know, frankly closing schools, and looked at things like the size of the school, you know, is there -- at a certain point if you've got only a small number of kids, does if make sense to have a principal and administration in that school? To things like, you be, quote unquote market share, how many of the kids from the area are going to school there? And actually developed a list of schools, I think in rank order. We're gonna now start that process up again in looking at the potential of some schools that, you know, their size makes them so expensive to operate that in this budget crisis, can we continue to do that? But there's another aspect of that, which is when we look at bussing. So when we provide as a district bussing outside of the bussing that we're required by law to provide, we've got many schools in the district where a majority to a large majority of the kids who go to that school ride the bus. And so if we were to cut bussing, would we be de facto closing that school because so many of the kids wouldn't be able to get there. These are again, huge, devastating types of cuts. Yeah, a smaller school, you know, can add extra costs, but smaller schools also tend to be very effective because they create a sense of community.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Uh-huh. Yeah.

RICHARD BARRERA: And there's a lot of factors that go into, do you really end up saving money? So for instance, if you shut a school campus down and the -- but the kids now are going to other schools and you've gotta increase costs at those schools to accommodate across the district, are you saving a lot of money? Those are you will big questions that we've gotta grapple with. But closing a school simply out of budget, you know, because of a budget crisis is really, again, it goes back to, you know, these big questions that we've got --

ALISON ST. JOHN: So you're not willing to name any names?

RICHARD BARRERA: Weigh can't do that, and it would be irresponsible to do that, because exactly like you say, Allison, once a school appears on a school closure list, does everybody start looking around? And are you in fact increasing the number of people who leave that school?

ALISON ST. JOHN: So no definite schools on that list right now, but you are looking at having to draw up that list if the worst comes to the worst. So in the few minutes we have left, I wanted to invite you to tell us any positive stories you have of schools, classrooms or teachers that are really making a difference.

RICHARD BARRERA: Absolute, I know bill's out there visiting schools every day. What I would just jump in with, is we've got almost all of the schools, for instance, with 90 purpose or more of kids on free and reduced lunch, and we've got a number of those schools in our district, hymn all of those schools over the past few years have seen significant gains in student achievement, again, you know, just measured by a test score. We've got a school here in mid city, Edison elementary school, hundred percent of kids on free and reduced lunch that went from 22 percent proficient in literacy a couple years ago to 62 percent proficient last year and similar gains in math.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And you attribute that to?

RICHARD BARRERA: We attribute that to, again, an incredibly strong community that has been created in that school. Where teachers are working collaboratively, they're on the same page, they're focused, the parents are involved, they're not gonna fall through the cracks because when they go to school, people know who they are and they're looking out for them and care about them. That's the type of success that we're seeing across this district and success that we can't just simply let go away because of budget cuts.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And bill, do you have anything that makes you feel like oh, it's all worthwhile? Look what's happening here.

BILL KOWBA: Yes, Richard certainly points out Edison and a number of our schools in high needs areas, as recently as Friday, I was at innovation middle school. It's a middle school that we formed about three years ago around technology up in the Madison feeder pattern, kids of grace diversity. Of and I saw this wonderful collaboration of the administrators, the teachers and the kids all around the innovative ways to use technology in a classroom. I saw the use in just walking around the campus in a Spanish classroom, social studies, math, English issue even year book where the kids and the teachers were collaborating in a very energetic and positive way. And it doesn't take, I think, a lot of complex education philosophy to recognize that when the kids and the teacher are all focused, good things are happening. And it's not just at innovation middle school. But throughout our school, you will find that where there are these professional learning communities of teachers working across grade, across school, with the principal, with the data, engaging the kids, bringing the parents in to understand the education plan for their kids, there are positives happening.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Good. Okay, well, I think we should probably end on that positive note that there are -- and as you say, it all comes down often to a good team, good relationships.

BILL KOWBA: That's right.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And the money situation continues to be dire though, and we will follow up in the coming months to see what comes down the pipe for San Diego City schools. I'd like to thank you very much for being here, Bill Kowba, city superintendant of city schools.

BILL KOWBA: Thank you Allison.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And Richard Barrera, president of the School Board.

RICHARD BARRERA: Thanks Allison. Thank a lot.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And thank you very much for calling in. Sorry we didn't get to all of your calls, but remember that we will have another opportunity like this coming up next year. I'm ALISON St. John. And stay with us. Coming up, we'll be talking about water in the Imperial Valley.

Comments

Avatar for user 'EastCountySD'

EastCountySD | December 13, 2010 at 9:54 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

We should account for benefits and pensions when comparing to private sector compensation. My sense is we probably need to cut union member salaries more to get to parity with the reality of the current labor market.

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Avatar for user 'gbjoanne'

gbjoanne | December 13, 2010 at 10:29 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

District should trim/slim its structure to increase efficiency and cut wasteful spending!
I recently encountered an incident at school district. My client made an online purchase for the items to ship to the school. Shipping charge was paid by the client and UPS would drop the packages off right at the client's office/school. However, public school districts or this particular district has a rule that all package will be delivered to district warehouse and the warehouse will take a truck to deliver to the custodian's office at each school, then custodians will distribute them.

The money to maintain the truck, truck driver, the extra time cost to the custodians to deliver the package, which can be saved if the district would just allow UPS, FedEx to do what they are paid to do!

Every little things count!

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Avatar for user 'mattcbruno'

mattcbruno | December 13, 2010 at 3:08 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

With Prop J receiving just about 50% support it is clear there's a push from many in community to support San Diego's schools, however in a very "tax sensitive" time it's not really hard to see why it failed. While funding schools is of course a big concern, many families in San Diego simply cannot afford the additional tax burden in already lean times. So how can we increase funding to schools without increasing the tax burden?

What about partnering with local businesses and using a portion of their existing expenses to directly fund San Diego schools?

There is a program run by a San Diego based company called Swipe the Cause (www.swipethecause.org) which does just that. The Swipe the Cause program allocates a portion of a business’s existing monthly credit card expense towards San Diego Unified School District to help bring revenue back into the district without relying on politics. With this program, a business could be donating more in one month than they would have with Prop J in an entire year – without additional taxes or expenses. Plus the Swipe the Cause program helps to spur local spending, improving the bottom line of local San Diego businesses.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | December 13, 2010 at 5:16 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

The San Diego Unified School District budget is a staggering $1 billion, which is equal to the entire General Fund of the City of San Diego.

San Diego's population is 1.3 million.

SDUSD's student population is only 132,000.

There is clearly a serious problem with fraud, waste, and abuse in SDUSD. Now is the necessary time to begin discussing the privatization of all public schools in San Diego.

o Use vouchers for the poorest students, let everyone else fairly pay for education exactly when and where they use it

o End the discrimination of taxing only property owners

o Let the quality of a school dictate its income where poorly performing schools fail and innovative and successful schools thrive

o Salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators = performance

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