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Will San Diego Unified Reduce Teacher Layoff Plan?

Aired 5/24/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

How will the San Diego Unified School District benefit from an expected $6.6 billion boost in state revenue? We talk to school board president Richard Barrera about the governor's revised budget proposal, and whether the district will change its plan to lay off more than 700 teachers.

San Diego Unified School District Board President Richard Barrera

Above: San Diego Unified School District Board President Richard Barrera

How will the San Diego Unified School District benefit from an expected $6.6 billion boost in state revenue? We talk to school board president Richard Barrera about the governor's revised budget proposal, and whether the district will change its plan to lay off more than 700 teachers.

Guest

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.

CAVANAUGH: It's Tuesday, May 24th, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Coming up this hour, DA Bonnie Dumanis joins us to talk about what San Diego needs in order to comply safely with the Supreme Court order to release inmates from state prisons. And later, a local public health official examines the potential health effects of climate change. But first, we're joined by Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego unified school district's board of education. The board is meeting later today to try to figure out how an additional six billion dollars in state revenue might change the budget picture for San Diego's largest school district. Richard, good morning. Thanks for coming in.

BARRERA: Thank you, Maureen, glad to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Has the governor said that most of that additional money would go toward education.

BARRERA: What the governor has done is he's taken about 40 percent, which is the requirement under proposition 98, of this additional six billion dollars in revenue and devoted it to schools, and what that allows them to do is to keep K-12 level -- funding level at this year's, you know, level of funding so that we wouldn't see more cuts to education going next year.

CAVANAUGH: Have you seen anything actually in writing from the state about how this could affect San Diego?

BARRERA: Yeah, the governor released a very detailed plan in his May revision, and in fact, tonight, at our School Board meeting, our chief financial offer and superintendent are gonna walk us through, you know, precisely what that means for San Diego unified. But roughly what the governor's budget would allow us to do is restore about 40 million dollars to, you know, to our 1112 budget, which would be enough money, for instance, to keep kindergarten through third grade classes at their current level of about 24 kids per class, rather than have them, you know, balloon up to 30 kids per class, and would probably allow us to do some other things with our arts and music programs, our magnet programs, the programs that are working really well right now that we don't want to see under mined. We would be able to keep in tact under the governor's proposal.

CAVANAUGH: This would shrink your budget deficit for the coming year.

BARRERA: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: But it wouldn't eliminate it.

BARRERA: Certainly not eliminate it. I mean, we're still looking at taking what would be a hundred and 15 million dollar deficit and taking that down to about 75 million dollars, so still a lot of cuts that would need to take place, but what the governor's budget also does is it not only allows us to do some restoration to those cut, but it puts us on a better trajectory looking forward to future years, so that the economy continues to rebound and tax revenues continue to come into the state, looking forward to future years, K-12 would be getting a share of that increased revenue. So it helps our picture in the long run as well as looking at next year.

CAVANAUGH: A lot was made just a few weeks ago about the fact that San Diego unified had to send out layoff notices to teachers, basically incorporating that into the budget, those layoffs for the first time.

BARRERA: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: What would this additional money do for that? Would more teachers actually be rehired?

BARRERA: Yeah, absolutely. And officialy, given the deadlines that are mandated pie state law, we have to give teachers notices, pink slips by March fifteenth, and then final layoff notices by May fifteenth, so at this point, certainly what the governor's budget would allow us to do is to recall many of those teachers, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Recall. And is there a lot of paperwork or requesting that goes into that, or is it just basically another letter? You've been recalled.

BARRERA: Yeah, in terms of -- right. In terms of the notice to the teachers, it would be a letter that says you're being recalled, you'll have a job in the district next year. A lot of needless to say, red tape and bureaucracy, and working through how the money comes down from the state, and how the district deals with all that.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Richard Barrera, he is president of the San Diego unified school district's board of education. Another question about those teachers, the layoffs, I believe, were about seven hundred teachers, many more administrative officials, you know, other counselors.

BARRERA: Yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And those sorts of people.

BARRERA: Right.

CAVANAUGH: How many of those might be recalled?

BARRERA: Well, it's -- this is gonna be a question, you know, that the board is gonna have to grapple with. And we'll probably be -- we've got five members of the 62 will board. And I'll probably be pretty aggressive in wanting to use as much of that initial revenue from the governor as possible to recall employees and to keep our programs in tact for kids. We might have other board members that are wanting to be more conservative and who are concerned about what's gonna happen in future years, which is a legitimate concern as well. So we'll have to debate it. And ultimately three board members are gonna have to come to consensus.

CAVANAUGH: Now, it's important to point out, if I understand this correctly, that this revised budget from Governor Brown is not exactly a done deal yet, I mean, it has to be approved.

BARRERA: No, and that's very true. The governor has made a proposal to the legislature, and the governor has made a proposal that says he can balance the budget without further cuts to K-12. Interestingly, the Republicans in the assembly have not put together a detailed plan, but they are claiming that they can balance the billion without making further cuts to K to 12 as well. So that's very positive, you know, from our perspective. However, if they can't come to an agreement to actually balance the budget that protects K-12, then we continue to be in this rollercoaster. Remember last year they went all the way through October before they actually balanced the budget. So it is critical for the folks in Sacramento to figure out how to compromise, how to come to an agreement to actually balance the budget, and if they do so, then they actually be be protecting K-12. If this is just rhetoric, that both sides say I'm for schools but I don't want really want to help balance the budget, that doesn't really help us in any way.

CAVANAUGH: Right. The last time you were here, you were talking about how critical it was to get the extended taxes that the governor wanted to see put on the special ballot, to get that approved for voters to say yes to that.

BARRERA: Right.

CAVANAUGH: In order to preserve money for education. Is that also another crucial element or now that there's this additional revenue, you don't need that anymore.

BARRERA: Well, no, what the governor is saying is in order to balance the budget, so even with the additional six billion dollars that's coming forward, there's still a 10 billion dollar hole. And the governor is I saying the only way that that hole can be filled is by extending some taxes that we're currently paying, not only for balancing next year's budget, but to think out in terms of five years, or we're gonna be back into this hole year after year after year. Republicans are claiming, oh, we can somehow balance the budget without extending those tax measures. They haven't presented a detailed plan how they would do that. But we're very concerned that if the Republicans simply don't compromise, you know, in on issue, number one, we're not gonna see a balanced budget any time soon for the 1112 year, but that we will then see, you know, the budget deficit open wide up again going forward. And remember, the practice certainly of Sacramento oaf the past several years is every time they balance the bottoming, they come back a few months later and say, oh, gee we've got a new deficit that we need to deal with for school district, that means that we have had to make cuts in the middle of the year. So it seems like the responsible way to go about this is what Governor Brown is proposing, a mix of cuts and extension of current tax increases, and we would certainly urge the legislature to pass that budget.

CAVANAUGH: Talk to us a little bit more about that limbo that you see perhaps opening up if the state budget doesn't meet its deadline and get signed.

BARRERA: Sure.

CAVANAUGH: By the end of June.

BARRERA: Sure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where does that leave the idea of, perhaps, recalling teachers?

BARRERA: Well, it's a terrible position that we're in, because we need to not only balance our budget by the end of June, July first we need to start operating according to that budget. And obviously, you know, by the beginning of September right after Labor Day, school reopens, and you know, we can't open school with overcrowded classrooms, these configurations of teachers in schools that they really shouldn't be, and then hope that somehow the middle of the year, you know, Sacramento gets its act together, opinions a budget, and brings in money, now we go and change schools all up again in the middle of the year. It doesn't work for K-12, so we really can't afford to be in that kind of limbo, and if the state is out there without having balanced a budget, month after month after month, it means that we either have to take a risk and say we believe the state is gonna, you know, is gonna be true to its word and balance a budget that protects education, and therefore we recall teachers. Or we take a risk the other way, and what we're really doing is risking a decent education for our kids by not having enough teachers and counselors and nurses and others available in the classroom, and hope somehow in the middle of the year that we can scramble on the other hand and get a year's worth of education back. That's not the approach that I think makes sense for our kids.

THE COURT: I want to take a couple of minutes and talk about another thing on your special meeting agenda today, and that is the idea of developing a five year plan for neighborhood schools.

BARRERA: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: How contingent is that on the district's idea to stop most bus something.

BARRERA: Well, so here's what we're talking about at the district, that certainly over the past three decades, the district has pursued a strategy of integration, which was done for all the right reasons, but fundamentally, the idea was kids weren't able to get a quality education in their neighborhood school, so you're gonna take some of those kids and put them on a bus, and they go to the other side of town and they get a better education on the other side of town. The problem with that is it hasn't worked out that way for the kids who have gotten on the bus, they haven't done any better than they probably would have condition if they had stayed home. And then what about all the other kids who don't get on that bus and are going to the neighborhood request school every day? So what we've seen in San Diego unified and is true in most large districts is this persistent achievement gap between -- we see differences in academic achievement for kids based on race, based on economic situation. And we believe that the way that we need to get at that disparity is we need to make sure that the neighborhood schools are quality schools. It decent mean that we're ever gonna say a kid can't go to the school of creative and performing arts or to the language academy or some school if the kid has a particular interest. What we're saying is a parent shouldn't have to make a choice between do I have my kid go to a neighborhood kid or do I have my kid go to a quality school? And we've got plenty of examples in the district today where neighborhood schools, even neighborhood schools in the poorest neighborhoods, facing the kids with the biggest challenges are doing a great job, and those kids are achieving tremendous results of so we actually know what work, we know what needs to be done to turn every neighborhood school into a quality sol, so what we're tacking about is over five years, we need to make sure that we take what works and apply if across the board.

CAVANAUGH: So what you're saying is that eliminating that bussing even though it's a leadership for a lot of people in San Diego going to the unified school district, that there may be a nugget of something good coming out of that.

BARRERA: Well, the question of eliminating bus, those are open questions, and there's some nuance I think in those types of decisions. So for instance a kid who wants to go to his neighborhood school, we don't provide bussing to today. So we have had examples for instance of students at San Diego high school who their families have to pay 36 dollars a month to put them on the city bus in order to get them to school. So it might be that we actually start to provide some homeschool bussing. But I think the bigger, is we can create quality schools in ever neighborhood if we've got an environment where the principal, the teachers, the parents are the same page. We're keeping track of what happens to every student, that we're trying new ideas but measures whether those ideas are actually working, and that people are working well as a team. Where we've seen that team work community based approach in effect, we've seen tremendous gains for kids in neighborhood schools, including high poverty areas. So now our challenge is, how do we take what works?

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