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As San Diego Unified Prepares To Cut 977 Positions, Teachers’ Union Prepares For New Contract

Above: San Diego Education Association members hold up signs in support of a new union contract, March 9, 2017.

Aired 3/15/17 on KPBS News.

Teachers crowded Tuesday's board meeting calling for competitive pay, more resources for kids and lower class sizes in their next union contract.

San Diego Unified teachers planned to crowd the board of education meeting Tuesday night wearing red shirts and waving signs with the acronym LEARN printed on them.

The acronym spells out what they want in their next union contract: lower class sizes, expanded enrichment classes, attractive pay, resources such as counselors, and no last-minute staffing changes.

This, despite a $124 million dollar deficit and the 1,476 pink slips that started going out last week.

The union's current contract ends June 30. Union President Lindsay Burningham said a more generous contract is possible if the district trims newer programs and prioritizes campuses over the central office.

"They've used one-time money to plug the hole and they're not getting that one-time money this year — they've used property sales and they've used one-time money from the governor," Burningham said. "What we've seen is they also haven't attempted to control their expenditures. When you have a structural deficit, you don't create new programs."

Several critics have pointed to the district's new family resource center as the kind of place to make cuts. It's seen as a pet project meant to help the district stem the tide of families choosing charter schools over traditional district campuses. But it's also heading programs to help immigrant families and diverse students feel safe during tough political times.

The district says the layoffs are necessary to deal with rising pension costs that will only get worse, and they're needed because of that declining enrollment. The district also points out it cut about 100 senior management and administrative positions, including one from the family resource center.

The district also gave teachers and other employees a 4 percent raise this year to attract and retain more qualified teachers.

The board unanimously approved the budget cuts last month, saying the approach was evenhanded and prioritized schools.

While class sizes and teachers in core subjects were spared, teachers who teach career and technical classes at high schools, elementary prep time teachers who teach physical education and other specialty subjects, and assistants who help English language learners and students with special needs were not.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Budget Cuts Spare Classrooms But Not Their Frequent Visitors

Some employees receiving pink slips will end up keeping their jobs thanks to an early retirement program. The district must trim 977 positions.

Superintendent Cindy Marten told the San Diego Union-Tribune the cuts would remain on the table even if the governor puts forward a more generous state budget in May. The district has already identified a $52.5 million deficit for the 2018-19 school year.

Meanwhile, Burningham and her team are scouring the budget for other solutions.

"We want to show the district and show the parents that our bargaining campaign isn't a selfish campaign, but really is a campaign about ensuring our students and our educators have everything they need to be successful," Burningham said. "Connected to that campaign also is that you need educators in the classroom, in schools, in front of students; not laid off at home with no job."

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