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San Diego Unified Board Asks Teachers To Postpone Raises

Aired 6/8/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

The San Diego Unified School District Board wants to postpone raises that were planned for district employees in 2012. We speak to the vice president of the school board about the motivation behind that proposal, and the district's plan to reduce busing over the next five years.

John Lee Evans, vice president of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education, and the representative for Sub-District A.

Above: John Lee Evans, vice president of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education, and the representative for Sub-District A.

The San Diego Unified School District Board wants to postpone raises that were planned for district employees in 2012. We speak to the vice president of the school board about the motivation behind that proposal, and the district's plan to reduce busing over the next five years.

Guest

John Lee Evans, vice president of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education, and the representative for Sub-District A

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.

CAVANAUGH: This is it KPBS Midday Edition, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. A wind fall for the financially strapped San Diego Unified school district seems to be causing as many problems as it solves. A bump in projected state tax revenue has added 32 million dollars to the school district's budget. But what the psychiatric wants to do with the money, and the concessions it's still asking from teachers have caused a lot of tension. I'd like to welcome my guest, John Lee Evans is vice precedent of the San Diego Unified school district board of education, and the representative for subdistrict A. Good afternoon, Mr. Evans, thank you for coming in.

EVANS: Good afternoon, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we invited the president of the teachers' union to be with us today. But he did not return our calls.

EVANS: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: We'll be happy, though, to take questions and comments from our listeners. If you'd like to join, our number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Since there's now a chance of more funding for the state, why is the School Board asking district employees, the teachers, to postpone salary increases that are scheduled for next year?

EVANS: Well, first of all, I wouldn't exactly call this is a wind fall, because this is actually the amount that the governor was more or less predicting in his January building, hour we had to wait to the May revise to get the final numbers, and in the process, we found out that it wasn't as bad as some had predicted. However, the problem is that we have -- we have a really long-term problem. It's for the next year, the following year and the following year. And we're digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole. And I really would like us to get to the point where we can kind of come up with a solution that will fix things all at once.

CAVANAUGH: So what is the solution that the board has voted on now? What are the concessions that you're asking for?

EVANS: Well, first of all, the solution that he we came up with was crafted by two members, Scott Barnett who is the former president of the tax payers association and Richard Barrera, who is a long-time union organizer. They're on opposite ends of the political spectrum. What can we do to kind of keep job, keep class sizes lower, and still solve the longer-term budget problems? So what they came up with was a plan that credited a lot of long-term cut, but also included concessions. One was an extension of the furlough days, which the teachers had already agreed to in the current contract for a couple of years. It's one week less of school, to add that on for another year, and also to forego or postpone the schooled pay raises in a couple years for one year, because that would actually allow us to spend some of the money now, which we could use in the courtroom.

CAVANAUGH: And if I understand correctly, some of that money, if indeed you get it is going to go to call back some of the teachers that have been laid off? ; is that correct?

EVANS: The purpose of this, and this is really the intent of all the persons on the School Board is to retain as many of the teachers as we can, to recall back as many as we can. We certainly can't call back all of them, but we would like to call back some of them to keep the class sizes lower.

CAVANAUGH: And indeed the class sizes themselves, in the lower grades will be kept at a lower rate, if you can use that money in that way, is that your idea?

EVANS: That would be one of the main priorities that the board has. Right now, we have gone this year from 20 to 24 students, it's set next year to go from 24 to 29 or 30.

CAVANAUGH: This idea has been unpopular among teachers in the district, and I wonder did you foresee that?

EVANS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I completely understand their position. And I actually myself believe it's wrong to have teachers forego pay raises and take furloughs and so forth. But I also believe it's wrong to have too many kids in the classroom. And these are the types of decisions that we face. A lot of people just don't realize that the board's job is basically to divide up the money that we have from the state that we cannot just pull money out of a hat and create money that's not there. We have no revenue producing capability. We did try to pass proposition J raft fall, we got a majority of the voters, but it wasn't enough to pass it. We've certainly been lobbying the legislature, and now we're just looking inside in terms of sheer sacrifice to make it work.

CAVANAUGH: Let me paraphrase some of the things I've been reading about the reaction of the teachers' union to this plan, and that is basically that the teachers have made enough concessions, they've taken furlough days, they have had their pay raises postponed, and basically it's time for them to get to the front of the line when it comes to any extra revenues that the school district finds itself in possession of. How do you respond to that?

EVANS: That, and the truth is no matter what, this is -- any money that we have is going to be used to pay teachers and other employees. That's 90 percent of our become. But the question is how many teachers. And what we're looking for is a way that we can retain more of our teachers. So far the money will still go to teachers. It's just a question of whether someone has a few percent extra in their paycheck or whether we have the other teacher down the hall.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you already have a contract negotiated with the teachers' union that calls for pay raises at a certain time. What do you plan to do about that?

EVANS: Well, it's a contract, it's an agreed upon contract, we are asking our employee groups to -- due to the budget crisis to reopen the contract to discuss this. They have every legal right to refuse to negotiate. It's not an open contract. But we felt like we had to offer this opportunity to sat some jobs.

CAVANAUGH: So in other words what the teachers are faced with now is a sort of a rock and a hard place thing. If they say no, you can't open that contract again, then more teachers will be laid off, but if they do say that, then they won't get their -- the pay increases that the contract calls for.

EVANS: Well, a rock and a hard place, that's exactly where they are. And that's where we are, that's where we all are. And it's due to the poor funding of public education. Exactly.

THE COURT: I'm speaking with John Lee Evans, he is vice president of the San Diego Unified school district board of education. If you would like to call in with a quick question, 1-888-895-5727. What are the alternatives if you don't postpone the salary increases and get to implement -- what are some of the consequences that you feel would arise from not being able to manipulate this contract a bit and hold off those salary increases?

EVANS: Well, basically, it has to do with we're not gonna be able to recall back as many teachers as we would like to, and again, it comes back to larger crass sizes and just a less effective program. Even with the concessions, the amazing thing about the compromise that Mr. Barnett is and Mr. Barrera came to, there are a lot of difficult cuts. There are major cuts to transportation, there's closing schools, there's eliminating the year-round school schedule. There's looking at all kinds of sources of revenue, including some which we cooperate like, including advertising and so forth. Selling property. IT changes, the same. We're looking at every possible penny. And the concessions are only one small part of it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, if I understand this correctly, that 32 million dollars that is a bump in projected state tax revenue that came with the May revise that the governor just announced, that's still -- that still could possibly not happen; is that correct?

EVANS: Well, the truth is, we're taking a risk in terms of even counting on this 32 million dollars. In fact, the financial experts including our own chief financial officer and so forth are telling us we should not spend any of that money. So for us to actually move ahead, and say we're going to figure that into the budget is taking a risk. But at this point, I don't think we have any other alternative. I mean, to not include that just makes it impossible. And the board of education, we have two things we have to do, one is to produce a balanced budget by June 30th, and the other is to safe guard the education of the kids of San Diego. And those are very much in fact right now.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take Kay caller on the line. Greg is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Greg, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello, thanks for taking my call. I'll be brief. The main issue here, and it relates to this segment, and the -- until we repeal prop 13 or rewrite it to make it more equitable, we're gonna have significant shortfalls in funding and various social services. I'd really like to hear some commentary on how we request readdress prop 13 to address these tax issues.

CAVANAUGH: Greg, thank you for the call. I think I said These Days. It's Midday Edition now. Mr. Evans, any sort of ideas about prop 13 or long range fixes to the school funding issue?

EVANS: Well, it's true. Since proposition 13, schools have been put in a much less stable position because before school districts depended more on the stability -- relative stability of property taxes, and now we're subject to the fluctuations of income tax and sales tax and so forth. And the problem is, we don't need -- we have the same number of students every year. So we don't need more money one year and less money the other year. So we do need to find a more stable funding source. Whether that's through the change of proposition 13 or some other means. One reason we're moving forward with the governor's May revise budget, both the Republicans and the Democrats have said nothing further cuts in education. Democrats want to do it through tax extensions, Republicans want to do it through cutting and other areas. But we have to take them at their word that that's what that money is gonna do.

CAVANAUGH: Steve is calling from San Diego. Good afternoon, Steve, ask welcome to Midday Edition.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, there was a question cal chamber came out with a report that said only 59 percent of education expenditures actually went into the courtroom. Two years ago. And that actually dropped to 57 point eight, so two questions, why was there a drop? And two, why isn't there a focus on this 40 percent being shifted to direct classroom expenditures?

CAVANAUGH: Mr. Evans?

EVANS: Sure. That's absolutely been our focus in the last couple of years. In fact, two years ago, when we started making these cuts, we took some severe cuts, and actually at the same time increased the amount of money that was going into schools and classrooms. That's what we've been working on all along. If you go down to the education center in the San Diego Unified school district, you will see say much emptier building than there was a couple of years ago. We are putting everything possible into the classroom, and if you compare San Diego Unified to any other district in the state, I think you will see we have a very lean administration.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you about a vote that was taken yesterday by the School Board adopting a five year plan to reduce bussing in the district. What's the motivation behind that?

EVANS: Well, a couple motivations. One is obviously we need to cut back a budget in that area, and the transportation is a very significant area of the budget, and the other is a longer term plan on the School Board to really focus on a quality school in every neighborhood, this is not doing away with choice. But we do want to do away with the choice that comes from sending a child to another school because they have an inadequate school in their own neighborhood. There are some special situations, performing arts school, things like that, there's a lot of good reasons for bussing students, but a lot of this is just shuffling the students from one area of the district to another, which doesn't produce any better results.

CAVANAUGH: The School Board has another meeting come up on Thursday night, if I'm correct. What issues are gonna be discussed there? Are you gonna be talking about these concessions? Maybe trying to open up contract talks with the teachers' union?

EVANS: Well, actually our next board meeting is not until next Tuesday, we've had various placeholders because throughout the month, we've been working on the budget, and we have them there in case there's something to talk about. When the proposal was brought forward by Mr. Barnett and Mr. Barrera talked about a June fourteenth date where we would kind of regroup.

CAVANAUGH: June fourteenth. Okay. What kind of response have you gotten? The things I've read from the teachers' union have been rather implacable. They don't want to reopen those contracts. Do you have any option if that remains their stance?

EVANS: That's the stance that they've taken. Basically they've said that you have -- you have money for both, to recall the teachers, to keep all of the pay increases and so forth. My response to that is send over any auditors that you want, the district people will sit down with you and go over the books and go over the numbers. If we had the money, obviously it would be a ridiculous thing to do. But we have to realize that every time every dollar we spent is digging us into a deeper hole for the following year. So however much extra we spend this year is going to add to the 20 some million we're already short for the following year, which means we're gonna have another whole huge list of layoffs, we can go through the same thing again. And people are tired of this. And that's why we like to come up with a one time solution.

CAVANAUGH: Quickly, the conventional wisdom about the San Diego Unified School Board is that it was very teacher union friendly. And this rift with the teachers' union sort of -- seems to be causing a lot of concern, Richard Barrera said it was really something very difficult for him to do, to ask for more concessions from teachers. Do you see this as a continuing rift between the teachers and the School Board? Or how do you see this being resolved?

EVANS: I don't think it has to be a continuing rift. I think we're having great difficult on both siding. They're having great difficulty with things we've proposed, and we're having great difficulty proposing them 678 I think in the long run that we will get through this, and we'll continue to work together. We've during the past year have been working a lot more on the community schools effort, and I'm hoping we can get back to that.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with John Lee Evans, vice president of the San Diego Unified school district. Thank you Mr. Evans.

EVANS: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: Still ahead, there have been lots of changes at San Diego state university since president Steven weber took the helm back in 1996. As he prepares to step down, we'll talk about his proudest moments and about the challenges that lie ahead for SDSU. Stay with us as KPBS Midday Edition continues.

Comments

Avatar for user 'myvellez'

myvellez | June 8, 2011 at 1:09 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I found Mr. Evans sincere in facing the dilemma of increasing class and letting some teachers go or cutting teacher pay (yes, not providing a contract yearly pay increase is the same thing as a pay cut). Nevertheless, I believe he suffers from the common misconception that lower class size in grades k through 3 makes a big difference in the effectiveness (note: class sizes are already 30 plus in grades 4 through 6 and no one is questioning their effectiveness). In The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch reviews the two big studies on class size reduction and explains that one suggests no difference in effectiveness and the other suggests that class size reduction can increase effectiveness, but only if the class size can be held to 15 or lower. So I am not aware of any study which suggests that a class size of 24 is more effective by its nature than a class size of 29 and I challenge Mr. Evans to provide any evidence to the contrary. Additionally, it should be pointed out that while class size in california has been increasing for the last few years, California's CST scores has still been increasing. If you believe the CST scores are not inflated and represent real growth (I do not), then this would be further evidence that class size is not the critical factor of classroom effectiveness.

Reducing teacher pay could also very well create problems not immediately obvious. A lot of middle class college students decided to become teachers based upon representations that the job would be secure (if you proved yourself in through the tenure process), that the pay would steadily increase to provide slow but sure entry into the middle class, and that a secure retirement would be provided. All three of these pillars are being attacked. This will likely create two responses. First, teachers, feeling unappreciated, will cut back on all the volunteer work that they do. Second, the more advanced college students who have more options will decide not to become teachers. Over time, the quality of teachers will decline. By the time that this is realized, it will take many years to bring quality teachers back into the classroom.

It is too bad that some new teachers will have to be let go or have to wait until positions open up through attrition. However, the district could have prevented this problem by having a hiring freeze and slowly increasing class size a long time ago.

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