Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The San Diego Unified School District is facing a projected $141 million budget deficit next year. Superintendent Bill Kowba and school board president, Richard Barrera, join us to discuss the potential cuts the district is considering.
The San Diego Unified School District is facing a projected $141 million budget deficit next year. Superintendent Bill Kowba and school board president, Richard Barrera, join us to discuss the potential cuts the district is considering. We also discuss how Prop. J, the school parcel tax proposal, could affect the district's budget in the future.
Bill Kowba, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District.
Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego Unified School District's board of education
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: San Diego Unified School District's two top leaders are here to talk about possible teacher layoffs. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Coming on These Days. City officials say next year they may have nowhere left to cut from the number of teachers at San Diego schools, the district is projecting a 5th straight year of budget deficits. Superintendant, Bill Kowba, and School Board president, Richard Barrera, are here to take your calls. Plus our San Diego gang series focuses on the North County. Efforts to stop gangs in the region result in a different kind of gang culture.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on conscience. After four years of cutting millions out of the budget, this year San Diego Unified School District officials say they may have to start cutting teaches in addition to the teacher layoffs, the district is considering a number of other cost measures, including closing some schools, increasing class sizes and getting rid of the school police department. The district says the cuts are necessary to close a whopping projected 140 milldon dollar shortfall in next year's budget.
San Diego Unified is asking voters to approve a partial tax on the ballot this November to bring more revenue into the district, but it's uncertain whether the measure will pass, and even if it does, it won't solve the district a entire deficit problem.
Joining me to today to talk about the deem financial problems faced by San Diego's largest school district are my guests. Bill Kowba is superintendant of San Diego Unified School District. Bill, good morning.
BILL KOWBA: Good morning, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Richard Barrera is president of San Diego Unified's Board of Education. Richard, thank you for coming in.
RICHARD BARRERA: Thank you, Maureen. Thanks for having us on.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. What do you think more cuts may do to the quality of education at San Diego schools? Should the school board be hook at new sources of revenue and what would they be? Call us with your questions and your comments our number is 1 888 895 5727, that's 1 888 895 KPBS. Bill, let me start out with that number, that $140 million projected shortfall in next year's school district budget. Where does that number come from?
BILL KOWBA: That number is a calculation derived from all the information we have from the state relative to the main proposed been. The governor proposes or starts out with an initial budget in January, up dates it in May, and that is based on projected expenditures and revenues, and when we calculate the projections, factor in a negative cost of living adjustment, loss per pupil funding, and reductions in categorical funding plus what we know about the federal stimulus package funding going away at the end of the year, all of those factors pray themselves out, we project revenue versus extend tour and come up with a deficit in this case, $141 million.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Richard, the last time you were here, we were talking about closing a $90 million shortfall.
RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah, last spring. That's right.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I this is would this one helped and $41 million be the largest amount deficit you had to deal with?
RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah, well, you know in the past two years we have had to cut combined over $300 million, so we started in the second half of the 2008 and '09 year, there was an adjustment from the state. We had to cut $50 million. Then to balance our '09/'10 budget we have to cut 100 million dollars. Then to cut this year's budget, our 1011 budget, we had to cut another $135 million dollars. So now we're looking into going into next year with this, '11/'12, $140 million, the cuts keep coming, getting worse and worse, and we've done everything we can possibly do in terms of cutting the central office, taking advantage of being able to move funds from one place to another, cutting reserves, selling property, we're at the point where there's simply no way to keep these cuts away from the classrooms anymore. And $140 million, like say, Maureen, it's the worst that we have had to do on top of the cuts we've already done of it's a nightmare scenario that we're looking at for next year if it's about $140 million cut.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So Bill, what kinds of cuts has the district been making along the lines in order to try to cut back and meet these close the bottom gaps in the years in these last four seasons?
BILL KOWBA: We have an analogy I draw is that people say start farthest away from the classroom and pick the low hanging fruit. After four years we've on the ladder at the top of the tree with the last thing in mind. We've done things like moving allowable expenses into restricted sources, we've utilized surplus balances, taken advantage of the state flexibility, used some one time federal stimulus money, had a golden handshake with of a our staff a year ago, over a thousand people left the district, 400 of our classified personnel, that was not just decades but centuries of a brain drain for us. We've cut our supply budgets by 25 percent, shortened the school year by five days, eliminated a number of enrichment programs, simply eliminated vacant positions and moved the money to cover additional costs. We have been in a fairly rigid and spending hiring freeze, for the last 18 months, what money the school budgets are available today is just the basics, they're covering so many, many different things we've reorganized the technology, done what I think any organization would do, short of cutting deeply into its core mission into the classroom, but we're at the front doorknob into the classroom.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My guests are Bill Kowba, superintendant of the San Diego Unified School District, and Richard Barrera is president of San Diego Unified's Board of Education, and we're taking your calls at 1 888 895 5727. Let's hear from Jeff calling Mira Mesa. Good morning, Jeff, and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning. Thank you for taking my call. My question is basically we're talking cuts, my daughter is in a fourth grade classroom with one teacher and 34 students.
RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah.
NEW SPEAKER: And that's a gifted class.
RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah.
NEW SPEAKER: But yet my property taxes have gone up ten percent. I think that's pretty standard throughout the county. Why are the taxes going up and the services going down?
RICHARD BARRERA: Well, I you know, I think that's a great question. I think that the, you know, we have to ask ourselves the priorities, you know, within the state government. I mean, you know, the number that always drives me berserk is that we get from the state now less than $5,000 per student per year, you know, to educate a kid. At the same time, on average the state spends about $50,000 per year to keep somebody in prison. And sometimes that cost goes up to $200,000 literally per year to keep somebody in prison. Of so the question is really about is really about priorities. Now, you know, I do believe that the way that the state has gone about balancing its budget over the last couple of years has all been about cuts and has neglected some obvious, you know, choices in terms of revenue, we've talked about the fact that there's been no increase in tax on alcohol in the state in 20 years. You know, a dime a drink, you know, would go a significant way towards, you know, eliminating our problem in the schools. California's the only state in the nation that produces oil that doesn't tax oil production but somehow the oil companies are off the hook, but the schools are on the hook. You know, what are their priorities? You know, of the folks in Sacramento that get us to a point that it can only be about how to we make schools worse and worse and we never look at the revenue options?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering how much is the San Diego unified school district pendant on funding from the state?
BILL KOWBA: We receive funding from the state in two general buckets of money, both restricted and unrestricted dollars, restricted comes with certain conditions, certain specifications, when you roll that all up, it's almost 80 percent of our resources come from the state, and this is the post prop 13 area, beforehand as the gentleman talked about his property taxes have gone up. But largely all that money gets recycled pack through Sacramento, before prop 13, property taxes would have stayed local. 75 to 80 percent from the state. Relatively ten percent, a relatively small amount from the government. And then the individual is paced on local developer fees and miscellaneous. So when the state has an unprecedented crisis of this nature, and if half the budget is public education, 40 percent kindergarten to twelfth grade, the other ten percent on higher education, a magnitude problem of that forces public education in the target as under stress at all times.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And in outlining what cuts have already been over the past three to four years where you've had these very large budget deficits it sounds as if you've dipped into one sources of money that are only there for a limited period of time.
RICHARD BARRERA: Exactly right. Yeah. You can some of the things we've done in terms of spending down reserves, you know, actually selling property, you can only do that one time. The money is gone, we can't keep doing that year after year, that's why when bill says we're right at the door of the classroom, that's exactly right. We've kept away from having to bust through that door for a few years now, but we can't equal, those options, you know, have been used up.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls at 1 888 895 5727. Sal is culling us from Carmel Valley good morning Sal and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're welcome.
NEW SPEAKER: I am I need some information as to what is the teacher to other personnel ratio in the San Diego unified system. And the second thing would be the how much of the admin is required by state law?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that. Can we give Sal those ratios?
BILL KOWBA: Our ratio for our kindergarten for third grade is ideally one teacher per 20. That's based on a class size reduction program going into the 90s in realty, that number has creeped up to one teacher per 25, 26, maybe a little higher in our most formative years I know school districts in the county and state that are closer to 40. There are thresholds based on grade and contract or ed code, and you will find that we go from 1 to 30 in middle school, 28, 29, even a little higher in high school, and even in some high school classes such as fizz ed, where you'll go past 1 to 40. The numbers are incredible, and one visual I give to many folks, imagine a kindergarten teacher trying to manage provide focused, customized learning for 305 year olds? It's unconscionable. And I would say while we've cut everything in a large spectrum program, we've increased something, and that increase is the wrong thing, it's the number of kids in the classroom.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And another part of Sal's question, what is the ratio between teachers in the classroom and support personnel at San Diego Unified?
BILL KOWBA: Well, that's a tough number to give you right now. I can tell you this, that in terms of dollars, today less than 15 percent of all the dollars are tied narrowly to the central office, but even that is a little bit misleading our central office accounts include all the utility bills, our workman's compensation insurance so dollars is a tough way of describing the central office, are they administrative support? I will testimony you this, though, there are 500 less people in the central office administrative organization than there were four years ago. So proportionally we have taken significant cuts in that area.
RICHARD BARRERA: Part of Sal's question, is good he asked, legally what are we allowed to do in terms of administration? We asked ourselves that question last year when we went about balancing the budget. We went through a process that some people would know as zero based budgeting. Rather than starting your budget on what you would spend in the past you just say, how much money do we have and what can we spend it on? Start from scratch. But when you start that analysis, you realize that there were several legal mandates that we're under that automatically mean we've got to spend X amount of dollars on things that meet those legal mandates then from there, where we have discretion, that's where we went about balancing the budget, what are our most significant priority?
BILL KOWBA: We're taking your calls the 1 888 895 5727. Sue is calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Sue, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. My question is that there seems to be a real unsustainable model in terms of once you hire a teacher, we're paying that teacher forever with their pension and free healthcare. You know, basically until they die. And so, you know, I know the unions are really powerful. But has anybody looked at that? Because it just seems like in the long run that it's not a sustainable practice anymore.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Who would like to take that?
RICHARD BARRERA: Well, a couple of things on that. In terms of but we get sort of confused, I think, with the city government, when he woo talk about the pension issues and the unfunded liabilities. We don't have a problem with unfunded liabilities with our pension at the school district. What at the school district, the school district is the employer, and the employee is paid a defined percentage and contribution every year that then goes into the state, whether it's the STIR System for the teachers or the CalPERS System for the other employees and that's mandated by state law, and it's a stable amount of money that goes in every year. So we're not facing this sort of situation with growing pension deficits at the school district. That's not our issue.
But I think maybe the larger issue that sew is asking about, really what I think sue is saying is are our teachers and our other employees overcompensated? Can we continue to compensate people at their current level into the future? Well, are the question, really, you know, you've gotta look at the numbers, you've gotta look at the actual, you know, compensation levels that our employees so if you take teachers, for instance, a starting teacher in our district gets paid about $38,000 a year. After a full career, a 17 year career, if that teacher gets then at the equivalent of two and a half masters degrees on top of that, they top out at about $78,000 per year. The average teacher in our district today makes about $64,000 per year. The center on policy initiatives, I know you've had discussions about their most recent reports about what it takes to make ends meet in San Diego, to raise a family in San Diego, at this cost of living environment, it's right at about $64,000. So if you look at our teachers, the average teacher in San Diego Unified is right on the edge of what it takes to make ends meet. And we've got many, many employees our bus drivers, our cafeteria workers, our custodians who don't even come close to approaching that level of compensation. San Diego Unified, unfortunately it's a real problem for us, of the 37 school districts in the county, we rank number 32 in the average compensation for teachers.
So I think our problem is actually that teachers are under paid and many people in our school district are significantly under paid. So if the answer going forward in the future is we've gotta cut compensation levels for teachers and our other employee, I think again that's a question that we have to ask ourselves as a community. How much do we value the work of people who are spending, you know, every day in the classroom, you know, educating our kids? Are we willing to turn that into a poverty job?
MAUREEN: We have to take a break, when we return, we'll continue our conversation with Richard Barrera and Bill Kowba and continue to take your calls at 1 888 895 5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego Unified School District's two top leaders are here to talk about possible teacher layoffs.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. After four years of cutting millions out of the San Diego Unified School District budget, the district faces a projected $141 million shortfall in next year's budget, and district leaders say the only place left to cut may be teachers of Bill Kowba, superintendant of San Diego Unified school district is my guest along with Richard Barrera, president of San Diego Unified's board of education and we're taking your calls at 1 888 895 5727.
Bill, so tell us more about the idea of actually after years of trying not to, the district may have to start cutting teachers in the classroom this next fiscal year.
BILL KOWBA: I think that's a horrific trade off for us, but one we're faced with right now. It is a proven fact through research, rigorous literature, data collection, that a teacher, a motivated focused energetic teacher in the classroom is the single turning point for a child's experience. And the fact that we would be faced with reducing our teaching staff brings to I think the center of court that problem we have. We cannot afford to increase our class size beyond much more than we have today. Based on certain thresholds. So we will have to go around the periphery, around the edges, we'll force class size up, we'll have to take a look at enrichment programs our world language offerings, for example, instead of having Mandarin Chinese and Arabic and some of the other critical world marketplace type of languages, they may have to go by the wayside. Instead of having additional or supplementary science programs beyond the basics of chemistry physics and biology. We may have to take a look at some of the green oriented science teaching that we have.
We'll have to consider some of the enrichment programs where teachers are handling old town social studies for fourth grade or 5th grade Balboa Camp or 6th grade Camp Palomar Outdoor science camp. All of that is out there producing the complete student. You start at that edge and you move in concentric circles into the classroom, and at some time you're saying, what do we have left? It's the core courses of the math, science, English, and social studies and we don't have the teachers that are pushed in to pull out children to provide some tailored specialized teaching. All we've left with is just a handful of core focal points for teaching because that's all we can afford to do.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Richard, how many teachers' jobs might be eliminated?
RICHARD BARRERA: What we're looking at in closing this $140 million gap is literally 500, 600 teachers, but on top of that, literally all of our counselors, all of our librarians. And that's the, you know, what we call the certificated staff. Then we look at the classified staff, the custodians, the bus drivers, the school police officers who keep our schools safe, the vice principals, who you know, are important for keeping schools safe and secure, we're talking about our music and arts programs, as Bill alluded to, our high school sports programs. Everything that makes a complete education starts to go away, and you're left with this very narrow, you know, experience for a kid.
And Maureen, the thing that's really important to, you know, for us to keep in mind is San Diego Unified, this school district has been showing substantial progress and success over the last couple of years, again, if you just look at test score, which I think, you know, are a bad, you know, maybe a one snapshot measure am. I mean, we've seen the highest growth that we've ever seen in this district over the last couple of years. In literacy, science has gone, you know, through the roof, we were one of the lowest performing school district ace few years ago. Now we're at the very top.
You know, so the teachers in the classroom, the people who are working with kids they're doing a terrific job and they've shown an ability to get better and better ask better every year, in a predictable way. Are we willing to though all that away? You know, because we can't figure out alternatives to balance our budget.
BILL KOWBA: Let's take a call. Andrea is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Andrea. Welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. My son goes to University City High School, and this last year, we lost our principal from the year before because a new administrative position was created for him to be over other principals in the area, thus creating a need to hire another principal. And then fund his new position. My son has one class where there are 42 students and he literally almost sits in the hallway. I just wonder can we really afford these layers of administration and why was that new position created when we're so short on our funds? Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Andrea.
BILL KOWBA: I think what Andrea is referring to is we reorganized our school district from something called school improvement offers to area superintendents. In doing so, we reduced the number of midrange administrators and saved about, I think, 3 to $4 million. We have in my opinion of these area superintendents. Before we had 12 or 13 plus additional support staffs. All of that has gone away, and with the nine area superintendents, we've taken the district and redistributed with a single accountable senior educator overseeing a whole kindergarten to twelfth grade feeder pattern, someone who's accountable for understanding how the elementary middle and high school works not a fragmentation, how our administration was in the last couple years. So there has been savings by restructuring and reducing management, and also more focused accountability, making someone very visible and responsible for that particular University City High School feeder pattern.
RICHARD BARRERA: And if you think of the span of accountability, the caller is talking about Mike Price who was the principal at University City, who is a terrific, experienced administrator. Mike's job now is literally to oversee two high school clusters so that means all of the students, all of the schools, elementary, middle school and high schools that go into this case, La Jolla high school is University City, all of those principals report to one administrator, Mike Price am it's a very difficult job. If we face $140 million budget deficit, of course, you know, that level of administration is gonna go as well. But are we now in a system where we literally have no accountability? You know, no super vision of principals? I'm not sure that's what we want to be getting to.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call, Linda calling from Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Linda, welcome to these days.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. Since teachers' salaries are such a large part of the budget, has there been any consideration of realigning those salary schedules, maybe making the increments in a different way that would substantially help this situation? So many other places have gone looked at. But some teachers at the high end of the salaries are making quite a lot of money for nearly nine months' work throughout the year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Thank you, Linda. Thank you for calling. And I guess this goes to what you were saying before, Richard, about the idea of whether or not the community really has to think about whether or not that's the way we want to deal with the quality of teacher in the classroom.
RICHARD BARRERA: That's exactly right. One thing that's penitentiary to understand is that every teacher and every employee in this district is taking a pay cut this year and is taking a pay cut next year. Again, you look at the average teach who makes about $64,000 a year, that teacher is reached into her pocket and contributing between $1,500 and $2,000 this year and again next year in order to help us balance the budget. I think what Linda's talking about, what the caller is talking about, is what in education is called the step and column system. What that basically means is if you're a starting teacher, and again starting pay is about $38,000, well, we don't have a system of promotions, you know, like you have in other industries where a person spends their rear and they kind of move up in the job, in fact, we want to encourage teachers to stay as teachers to stay in the classroom, and not have administration be the only track to promotion.
Well, the way that's done in education is you have a system where after a certain number of years with additional advancement in training or education, you move up. So the question for us is if we were to for instance eliminate the entire step and column system, which would have to be done under negotiations, that adds about that's about $18 million per year. Wee looking at $140 million problem. So keep it in some perspective. But do we really want a system where a starting teacher who's making $38,000 per year never has a chance to move beyond that? What's the likely outcome of that, it means that every teacher eventually is going to reach that point where they simply can't afford to do it anymore. And the idea that teachers are working nine months issue listen, teachers are working 12, 14 hour days in the most intense environment that any of us can imagine. This is one of the most challenging jobs and obviously the most important jobs, and obviously the question goes back as a community are we willing to honor and respect and value that work or do we say it's really not worth it to us. Let's just keep slashing and slashing and see constant turn over of teachers and other people, you know, who are working with kids.
BILL KOWBA: And Maureen, if I could answer that?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.
BILL KOWBA: We did do some adjustment to the pay tables about two years ago to try and flatten them and bring a little more equity. That was done in class contraction with the teachers' union, so an adjustment has gone made, and as Richard notes going forward, it would be difficult in today's economy, to make anymore adjustment without penalizing or creating additional burden for our teaching ranks.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's hear from Lisa, calling from Del Cerro. Good morning, Lisa, and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning. Thanks. I'm a parent with Lewis Middle School, and I was wondering how Prop J fits into the budget situation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Prop J is the school parcel tax proposal that's on the November ballot. And I know that both Bill and Richard are very enthusiastic supporters of Proposition J. If you could, just give us a really short idea of what
BILL KOWBA: Sure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: of what it is and what it would do.
RICHARD BARRERA: Well, I appreciate the question from Lisa, and Lewis is really one of our superstar schools that's had an outstanding year last year. What Prop J does, it asks local voters, Bill talked about the fact that since proposition 13 property tax money all goes up to the state. We want some local control, local funding that goes to our local schools that Sacramento can't take away. So what we're doing is we're saying to residential property owners, for instance, in the district, are you willing to equivalent of about $8 a month, over the next few years, it's a time limited measure that ends after 5 years designed to get us out of this emergency. Are you willing to contribute 8 dollars a month? If you do that, that's gonna bring in about $50 million a year to our district. Like you said, Maureen, it doesn't solve all our problem, but it certainly makes it more more doable, and avoids some of these really catastrophic, up, decisions that we would have to make. So it's it's we're reaching out to local voters saying, are you willing it make a local contribution to keep our schools strong while we weather this crisis at the state level.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Bill, I'm wording judge, Proposition J, we're in a recession, there's another revenue generating proposition on the ballot for an increase in a half cent seams tax in the city of San Diego. It's uncertain whether or not this parcel tax proposal will pass. I'm wondering what is your man B if indeed this proposition does not pass?
BILL KOWBA: Well, I think our alternative is to default to $140 million strategy and a little bit more we can develop in terms of options presented to the board recently. And that is going into the work force and into the enrichment programs, into the support system. The Prop J would cut into as a partial solution. So we still have some very tough cuts to make even if we have an improved state budget. If we have a Proposition J. And any changes in the federal stimulus. There's still too many other needs and too big of a gap not to look at cuts other than what we will do for solutions here and one thing to add from what Richard was saying, Proposition J is all about protecting everything we've been discussing in this conversation today. Funding to safeguard class size, fund be to safeguard core courses like math and English, funding to protect technology, and funding to overcome the gap in per pupil funding from the state. All of that money at the campus level has nothing to do with compensation for any of the work force, any administrative support, it's all about the kids on that campus.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are encouraging people to post their comments on line at KPBS.ORG/THESEDAYS. I want to talk about another idea of generating receive new that recently the school board voted down, and that was the idea to use ads to generate additional revenue for the district. Do you think the board might reconsider that idea, or why did the school board vote that down?
RICHARD BARRERA: Well, first of all, it's important, you know, we're talking about $140 million problem. The estimate about what that revenue would have brought in was about $100,000.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see.
RICHARD BARRERA: So I mean, it's really not anywhere near a solution to our budget problem. The question is should we be open to some form of advertising on the school campus. It's a really emotional issue for parents, do parents want to when they send their kids to school, we had a parent come and testify who said, look, our parks and our schools are the last commercial free zones that we have for our kids. Do we really want to cut into that? It's a values question.
And my perspective is I actually think it's a good thing for especially middle and high school students our older students to have some ability to do some analysis of the types of companies that would want to advertise and to really, you know, be have a big role in making the decision. Do we think this is a company that's worth putting in front of our schools? Do wing it's not? Where the school board is as a whole right now is just not interested in that general idea. But let's understand, it's not anywhere near getting to the solutions that we need to balance our budget.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's not gonna close the gap.
RICHARD BARRERA: Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both. We're out of time. Thank you for coming in and taking calls today. I think the people on the line really appreciated it. Bill Kowba is superintendant of the San Diego Unified School District, Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego Unified's Board of Education. Thank you both.
BILL KOWBA: Thank you, Maureen.
RICHARD BARRERA: Thank you, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And please if we didn't get a chance to take your call, go online, post your comment, KPBS.ORG/THESEDAYS.