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San Diego Unified Library, Mental Health Workers Dodge Budget Ax

May 15, 2017 1:28 p.m.

San Diego Unified Avoids Some Layoffs With Retirement Package, Furlough

GUEST:

Richard Barrera, president, San Diego Unified School District Board of Education

Related Story: San Diego Unified Library, Mental Health Workers Dodge Budget Ax

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.

San Diego unified school district has apparently found ways to avoid the massive layoffs fears earlier this year. Teacher signing up for an early retirement package and union school workers agreed to a two week furlough, helping the district cover a $124 million budget shortfall. However, the jobs of about 460 teachers who received pink slips this year may still be on the line. Joining me is the school Board President. Welcome. At Thursday night's meeting the school board rescinded 485 layoff notices that have been sent out to teachers. Why exactly was the board able to do that quick
The primary reason was that we had over 500 teachers who took early retirement, so that opens up positions for teachers who received the pink slips.
Because the early retirement package is a generous one, retiring teachers apparently get a full year salary in addition to other benefits. It may wind up costing the district more than it saves. In a report the early retirement package will save the district money in the first two years, but cost the district in the following three years for an overall net loss to the school district. So why did the board decide this was the best option?
It is always hard because you're talking about projecting out over five years. We know that for the first year there will be significant savings to the district. The most important reason that we wanted to offer the early retirement incentive is, when you have teachers who have spent a career and are ready to look at retirement, but yet you have other teachers who are facing a layoff, we certainly like to open up positions for those teachers facing layoffs. So we will see what happens over the five-year period. It is not for the teachers, it is not projected to be much in cost. But you also don't know what's going to happen over the course of five years in terms of the revenue that comes in from the state. The ongoing expenses. So we think taking advantage of this opportunity this year to open up his positions is worth doing.
What other positions besides the teachers and still have pink slips to be cut this coming school year?
There are a number of administrative positions that are being cut. There are a number of support positions, everything from bus drivers and custodians to special add assistance in the classroom. So what the superintendent has tried to do is look at what are the strategies, particularly class sizes, that have led to the academic gains that we have seen in the district over the past several years, including our record graduation rate, and how do we protect those strategies even while we are being forced to make budget cuts. So the cuts have been done I think very strategically, very thoughtfully. And we will be able to move forward next year with low class sizes in our district. We have among the lowest class sizes of any district in the state with support positions to work with students and we are expecting students to continue to make significant progress in the academic outcomes despite the fact that we have to make the budget cuts.
We previously reported that proposed cuts to library staff could decimate school libraries, but most of those positions have been saved now. Is that right?
Yeah. We were very pleased. A couple of weeks ago we had on the chopping block library technicians, also mental health clinicians and other really key positions that we did not want to cut. What happened is, we postponed making those cuts to see if the unions could come together with the district and work out some sacrifice for employees that will result in furlough days, not a reduction in school days, but furlough days for some employees. And the unions that were able to come to the table and make those agreements have saved those jobs. And that in the time that I been on the school board, we have experience that again and again where, when the district is facing a tough financial situation, the unions have come to the table, been willing to negotiate. So there is some sacrifice across the board, but we've been able to say positions and that is what happened.
The governor added one $.1 million in his revise to the state budget for K-12 schools, will that help avoid some of the remaining Laos?
We are hoping dash layoffs that -- Laos?
We are hoping. We project about $2 million a year for our district, which is helpful, but we have an operating budget of about $1 billion a year. So it is a drop in the bucket. And the state continues to owe tens of millions of dollars to our district, really billions of dollars to K-12 around the state. The governor has had a plan to get the schools back to prerecession levels, by the year 2021, and we are not there yet. So we still are in a situation where the schools do not have the amount of money that we are supposed to have dated back to the recession, and of course, when we pick about the recession, California was still near rock bottom in 2008. So just getting back to those levels is not adequate, and that is a conversation that I really think people throughout the state are going to need to have. It is a conversation that we're going to need to have with the people running for governor next year. California was number one in the country in investment in public and and dash education -- education a generation gave. And we have fallen so behind and I don't leave that reflects our values.
There is a central issue that reportedly the superintendent is concerned about. She says that the school district has to right size its employee numbers. To balance out declining student enrollment. I am wondering, are you thinking that the retiring and perhaps laid-off teachers will not be replaced even if revenues improve?
There will certainly be a loss of positions that gets us in the way the superintendent described. We have had a loss of enrollment, we are projecting stable enrollment going forward, but not at the levels we saw 10 years ago. Primarily that is the result of students enrolling in charter schools and leaving district schools. So because of that enrollment decline, along with a number of other factors, our costs continue to go up every year whether it is healthcare costs, salary increases to stay competitive for teachers and other employees, energy cost, pension cause. They continue to go up every year. And when we see revenue from the state flatten out, which is what we have seen over this year, and then we see the enrollment decline, that does require us to cut positions even though we are going to be able to maintain our class sizes.
We will keep up-to-date with your next meetings and see what happens. I have been speaking with the San Diego unified school Board President. Thank you.