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SD Unified Makes Case For Negotiations In Letter To Union

Aired 3/1/12 on KPBS News.

San Diego Unified sends a written invitation to the negotiating table.

— Since January, San Diego school leaders have been calling for union concessions to help close the district’s more than $120 million budget gap. The district put that call in writing today in a letter to the teachers union.

On March 15, about 1,600 employees will get notices they might be laid off. Those notices will go to teachers, counselors and other certificated staff and don't include another 250 to 300 layoffs of classified employees, which include bus drivers, cafeteria workers and clerical staff. The deadline to notify classified employees of their possible layoffs comes later in the spring.

District leaders have said most of these layoffs can be avoided if the district's five employee unions will agree to negotiate concessions, including forgoing the restoration of five furlough days and pay increases scheduled for next year.

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.

So far, the San Diego Education Association, the union representing teachers, has rebuked calls to negotiate. Board of Education President John Lee Evans said the union is ignoring the budget realities facing the district.

“We really can’t allow the state’s underfunding of education to pit ourselves against each other in San Diego," he said. "So we’re urging SDEA and all the other unions to agree to sit down and talk. We’ll meet anywhere, any time. Our children and our community are counting on us to, as adults, to work things out.”

But yesterday, the teachers union president, Bill Freeman, said it would be irresponsible to give up pay increases to balance a budget based on unreliable state revenue projections.

Freeman said the budget process is broken and should be changed. Currently school districts must base their preliminary budgets on state projections made in January. Proposed layoffs come out of those budget predictions. Districts' final budgets are drawn up after the governor issues a revised budget proposal in May. However, the state often finalizes its budget after school districts are required to do so.

In past years, that back and forth has resulted in hundreds of teachers and other San Diego school staff getting notified of possible layoffs, only to have those notices rescinded.

But Evans says the state's latest revenue reports make it very unlikely districts will see additional money come their way before the budget process ends.

Freeman also said in a phone call yesterday that the district's proposed layoffs go beyond what is required to close the budget deficit for next year. A charge district spokesman Bernie Rhinerson rejected. He said the layoff numbers are compiled based on decisions principals make with their school site councils on how to use the money they receive from the district. So - proposed layoffs are a tallying of cuts individual school leaders decided to make based on the funds available to them for next school year.

The district's shortfall deepened in January when Gov. Jerry Brown tied level funding of K-12 education to a tax initiative on November's ballot. If the initiative does not pass, San Diego schools will lose about $40 million. Evans said the district has to make the corresponding cuts now because state law does not allow the district to layoff teachers mid year.

Freeman did not respond to phone calls today.

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