Cutting Classes Used to be Fun
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DOUG MYRLAND (Guest Host): I'm Doug Myrland and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The extent of cuts which will have to be made to programs and personnel in city and country schools are coming into focus as new information on state cuts and school enrollment comes in. Those budget challenges are being faced by schools and that is the topic for the next hour. We'll be inviting you to join the conversation as well at 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Our guests this morning include KPBS education reporter Ana Tintocalis. Ana, welcome.
ANA TINTOCALIS (Education Reporter, KPBS): Thank you, Doug. Hi.
MYRLAND: And we also have, joining us in the studio, the president of the Board of Trustees for San Diego Unified School District, Shelia Jackson. Glad you could be here.
SHELIA JACKSON (President, Board of Trustees, San Diego Unified School District): Oh, thank you very much for having me.
MYRLAND: And joining us by telephone, the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools, Randy Ward. Good morning.
RANDY WARD (Superintendent of Schools, San Diego County): Good morning. I wish I could say I was glad to be here but considering the topic, we're here.
MYRLAND: Well, we'll try not to make it too painful for anyone. We're going to have a wide-ranging discussion this hour but I want to start with you, Ana, because you've been covering multiple angles of this story and I want to paint a larger picture because school districts all around the country, not just in California, are facing revenue troubles. But how bad is it statewide here in California?
TINTOCALIS: Well, Doug, it's pretty bad. The state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, just was at a recent news conference explaining that what the governor is proposing is a $1.3 billion cut, which has been already made this year, and then a $4 billion cut next year to all schools. And that's on top of $12 billion that has already been cut, so as you can kind of just hear in those numbers, that is a lot of money being cut from our public school system. So, you know, what does that mean across California? Well, take example for – for a school district in South Pasadena, their class sizes in the most youngest grades—we're talking kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade—those are going to go up to 32 students, and those very small classes that are, you know, in the past have been protected because small kids need a lot of attention, so you'll see 32 kids in South Pasadena classrooms. So you move into Los Angeles, and they've completely cut their summer school program, they're laying off 2200 teachers. And in Northern California, a small district by the name of Mt. Diablo, they're cutting their sports and music programs. Those are serious programs that are really loved by the community and those are being cut. So that's just kind of a snapshot of what is taking place in terms of education cuts in California.
MYRLAND: Now I want to get down to the county level with Randy Ward. And, Randy, I want to ask you about how a typical school district in San Diego County gets its budget put together. School districts are their own political subdivision, they have – they collect taxes, they also get money from the state. Help us understand how that mix of money comes to a school district.
WARD: Yes, most districts are receiving monies from the state through the property taxes. Property taxes get collected at the local leather – level get sent up to the State of California and it's divided up again somewhat equally to the 1,000 school districts that compose California. That is what is called the basic revenue limit. Then you have a number of state categorical programs which are programs specifically for restricted kinds of services to students. There's a number of those that come through the state and, increasingly, in – more funds have come in that variety, restricted services. And then you have a federal component of funds that come through Title I, special ed and other kinds of work programs, etcetera. So for the most part, it is the revenue limit, the state funding and then the federal funding. Now the federal funding is a very small amount.
MYRLAND: So paint a picture for us. San Diego is a big county. We've got San Diego Unified, which is the second largest school district in the state, then we have a lot of smaller school districts. Are some faring better than others?
WARD: Well, many, many are hurting. It's hard to say that there's any district faring well at this point. I happen to be on the board of the FICMAT, the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, and I'm not speaking for the board at this time, but I know that there are about up to 20 districts that could possibly have budgets that bring them close to the line of bankruptcy, and about 100 that are severely impacted statewide. I'm not talking San Diego County. And, of course, all districts are trying to figure out this magnitude of repeatedly making cuts and then looking ahead because of our statutory timelines with hiring and layoffs, etcetera. How do you plan for some of these mid-year cuts? We are actually thinking about a mid-year cut again for the year of '08-'09. I need to remind the public that '08-'09 finished in eighteen days, in twenty days, and so that kind of a cut, if you compare that to your home life out there, it's as if you've already bought your food and the paycheck came in at less amount, less than what you expected. So that is what every California district is dealing with.
MYRLAND: I want to turn to Shelia Jackson now. You, in a very personal way, have faced all of these questions here over the last few months. Your district just passed your budget here last week. Talk to me a little bit about the process that you went through, the kinds of tough choices you had to make, and where you came out the other day.
JACKSON: Okay, we did actually pass our budget. We started working toward preparing our budget for vote on the 23rd of June. What we did though was look at how do we meet the needs of our families here in San Diego during this time of economic crisis. And we took kind of a different approach. We really started consolidating a lot of problems – a lot of programs and a lot of departments. And usually in a very large district, urban district, you have specialty departments like you may have Ed Tech as well as IT, so we combined – so we have been doing over the last year or so, combining a lot of those departments into one department.
MYRLAND: And the effect of that is you save some salary by combining administrators, combining services, it's basically…
MYRLAND: …personnel costs that you're saving there.
JACKSON: We saved some personnel costs, as well as we've looked at how do we use technology in the future to help us because we know that sometimes, with technology, you can get a little bit more done with a few less people. So that has been one of the areas that we've really focused on as well. We, you know, we did look at trimming our programs and we still haven't finished. I know we had a huge presentation from the public about our arts and our athletic programs and people don't want those to go away. We had a huge outcry about our transportation for our dedicated magnets programs. But we realize – we keep saying to people that we are – this is a real budget deficit. And I think Mr. Ward said it correctly, it's like you – you're paying your bills but then your check doesn't come, and so it is actually real this year. And so we've done a number of things in that venue that will help us be prepared for next year. Our concern comes, you know, as we try to balance for next year and not knowing what the state revenue is, is how many more cuts can public education endure.
MYRLAND: Now one obvious step that you can take is to close some schools.
MYRLAND: And that was discussed earlier this year. And I know I heard several reports from Ana about that. But, ultimately, I believe you made a decision not to close a few schools that had been on the chopping block. Can you talk about the kinds of choice that – the kinds of just elements that go into making that kind of a choice? From an outside perspective, it seems like maybe if a school isn't – doesn't have the enrollment that it used to have, isn't serving the population that it used to serve, that maybe rather than compromising at a hundred schools, maybe closing two or three seems like an attractive solution. So how do you approach that decision?
JACKSON: Oh, most certainly. Two things that we really stood firm on, and one was keeping our teachers and trying to keep our schools open. We may next year have to close schools but, currently, one of the things that I really advocate for is if you want to know how a community is doing, look at its schools. If the schools are in disarray, the community's usually in disarray. If the community does not have a school then it doesn't really have a future. That means it's educating your students someplace else and they may end up moving and living someplace else. So I am very, very adamant about trying to keep as many schools open as possible. But what does that mean? That means that if a school has low enrollment, can we look at shifting district programs there and decreasing the central office that we may have. Can we look at not leasing—I think we're pretty much out of leasing now—facilities someplace and putting that actually in a district in – inside of a school that, you know -- You know, pare the school down to the empty space, use it for office space. We asked the staff to look at the state and legal ramifications, can we, in fact, offer our property to nonprofits and other organizations to rent so that we don't actually close the school but we keep the school but use the property, as available, for something else. And that's what we're trying to do. That doesn't mean in the long run we won't have to actually close some schools but right now we have managed so far not to have to do that.
MYRLAND: Now that's Shelia Jackson. She's the current president of the Board of Trustees for San Diego Unified School District. We also have in the studio Ana Tintocalis, who's the KPBS education reporter. And joining us also is Randy Ward, who's the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools. And we want to invite you to join us as well. We are going to speak for a minute with Ana and then take a short break and then we'll be back and we'll be taking your phone calls and your comments and questions at 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. And, Ana, you certainly followed this process, not only in San Diego Unified but with some other local school districts and are these typical choices that schools are having to make? You know, radical decisions like shutting down entire schools?
TINTOCALIS: Right, yeah. Well, for San Diego Unified, I think that was definitely the option that they were looking at and caused a lot of, you know, a lot of fear in the community. Any time you talk about taking a school out of a community or closing it down, you're going to have a bunch of teachers, parents, students clamoring for it to stay open, which puts the school board in a tough position, obviously. And like Ms. Jackson said, I think they're still going to have to consider that option given all the cuts. But, yes, school – closing small schools has been a big thing for San Diego Unified in terms of other school districts. I think they are looking more to increasing class sizes and, unfortunately, laying off teachers. Now San Diego Unified is not going that route and Ms. Jackson can probably explain a little bit more about how they are able to do that but – so layoffs, which is a big thing, but the interesting thing about this whole budgeting process is that it seems to, in my understanding and experience with people in the community, it just pits people against each other so you'll have teachers and parents from one school saying, well, lay off teachers because we don't want to close our small school. And then you'll have another camp saying, well, lay off teachers because, you know, we want to protect this program or the other thing. So it creates this very divisive, you know, very tense moment for school districts every time a budget discussion comes about at a school board meeting, at a school site, what have you.
MYRLAND: Love to hear from some of our listeners who may have gone through that in your own neighborhood with your own school. Again, that number is 1-888-895-5727. We'll be back to continue this wide-ranging discussion about schools and budgets right after this quick break.
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MYRLAND: I'm Doug Myrland. You're listening to These Days in San Diego. We have Ana Tintocalis, KPBS education reporter, Shelia Jackson, the president of the Board of Trustees of the San Diego Unified School District, and we're also joined by Randy Ward, the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools. I want to get to our listeners now who are interested in participating in the conversation we have. So, Shauna in El Cajon, who's been waiting patiently, and welcome to the program. Like to hear from you.
SHAUNA (Caller, El Cajon): Hi. I'm a professor at City College and also a parent in the Cajon Valley Union School District, and it's also near the Grossmont Union High School District. And I guess my question and concern is, over the last eighteen years—I teach business writing, business communication—and I see the end result of the public schools all around me, especially San Diego Unified School District. And what I see is less people who are literate. And for the last year in El Cajon, the middle schools and the elementary schools have actually closed their libraries. Instead of being open during the week, they're open once a month. So you can go around to the schools and literally see dark libraries; it's almost eerie, an other-worldly feeling. We – you know, we pay a lot of lip service to literacy and knowledge and reading, and then you look around and the libraries are dark. And I just want to know, is this going to get better in the near future? My child, who used to use the library as a safe haven from bullies can't go in the library; it's locked, it's closed.
MYRLAND: Well, let's start with Randy Ward on this one. Is this a typical solution that a lot of school districts take?
WARD: Yeah, unfortunately, libraries, music, art, all of the services and programs that create a whole child, are the first that are on the list. And, you know, I've done state takeover work, which is school district bankruptcy, for the last ten years prior to my three years here in the county office of education. And for the first time in the last three years, I feel like I'm back there. I'm back. And not only that, I think every superintendent and school board is getting the feeling of making cuts that are so difficult and so detrimental to children—forget about the adults and the jobs and all of that. This will hurt children for generations, and it's not one year, it's multiple years, and that means children won't have the ability to get the kinds of learning opportunities that every school board member got in the business to promote and every educator got in the business to create. And while we have very strong leadership in our districts in San Diego Unified and all of the 42, this is just asking too much. You're walking into a situation where 20% of your funding is just taken out from underneath you. You have everybody telling you you have to balance your budget or at least keep enough cash to pay, and what do you have to choose from? You have larger class sizes, you have to close schools. Closing schools is one of the most emotional issues in education. I had to get a bodyguard when I closed schools in Oakland. This is tough stuff. Nobody wants to do it. You're getting higher class sizes, you're laying off teachers, and talented teachers. Because of seniority, you're laying off some of the most recent teachers and some – and also many of them are talented. You're having fewer counts of the summer school. Many of the programs that have closed the achievement gap are going away. These are additional programs, the hourly programs. So while this person – Shauna, you're right. I'm afraid that we should begin to increase the prison funding because what we are doing is creating a larger pipeline for our prisons.
MYRLAND: And, Ana, you had something I think you wanted to…
TINTOCALIS: Oh, yeah. So, Randy, you are indicating that there is a number of San Diego County school districts that are on the close – or close to bankruptcy? Could you expand a little bit more on that?
WARD: No. I – What I'm trying to say is that it feels like, for all of us, that it's a bankruptcy situation throughout the state of California. We have to make such drastic cuts that it brings me back to the days of Compton and Oakland, where you walk into a school district and you have to immediately make drastic cuts that hurt children.
MYRLAND: We have a lot of people who want to weigh in, a lot of people waiting on the phone, and I want to get to those calls. But I want to ask Shelia Jackson one related question here. One of the things that your school district did was offer a golden handshake.
MYRLAND: And you really avoided teacher layoffs by giving an incentive to longterm teachers to go ahead and retire. Can you talk a little bit about the ups and downs of that decision?
JACKSON: Well, it turned out very well for the district. Certainly you lost a lot of teachers that had been around for a lot of – a long time, some very skilled teachers. So we caused in our office, a brain drain because those teachers have been around for so long. But what that did allow us to do was not have to lay off teachers and then some of the younger teachers that are coming in are very good. We're in a technology age so they are used to using their technology, so it saved us a little bit – it helped us a little bit with our tech development for those teachers as well. I want to make a quick comment about the libraries. One of the things that we did is that – It was a very difficult decision but we said that each school should have the library open at least part of the time. So we did allocate funds to keep all of our libraries open because the caller is exactly right. We have to find ways to keep our students engaged in and around our library system.
MYRLAND: We have Frances, who wants to join us. Frances, in La Jolla, welcome to the program.
FRANCES (Caller, La Jolla): Hi. I wanted to ask about San Diego Unified abandoning small class size in kindergarten through grade three, and to ask you to describe what the new numbers are going to be for class size, and what effect you think this change will have on the mastery that kids are supposed to achieve in math and literacy by the time they leave third grade. I also, from the money point of view, I'm curious, the school closure would not have saved as much money as ending the Balboa Park program and the sixth grade camp programs, and I'd like to know why those lovely-but-frill programs were retained even though they're very expensive but it seems like class size has gone up.
MYRLAND: Frances, we'll – we'll get to that question because a couple of other callers have also called in and indicated they want an answer to that. But I first want to do the class size one with Shelia.
JACKSON: Oh, most certainly. Our class size K-3, we're raising it to 24 students. The state requirement was 20 and we're asking to add four more students to the classroom. We're going to look at doing that. We recognize that, certainly, it may slow down the learning process just a tad but when we look at only adding four more students at that particular level, it's not like some of the other areas where you're adding, you know, five and six and you go to 36 students or 32 students in a kindergarten class – classroom. What we're hoping to do is maybe that, with our Title I stimulus, and it's just a thought right now that we'll – we're looking into, that our Title I stimulus, that at least at our Title I schools, we'll go back and re-lower that number from 24 maybe to 23 or to 22.
MYRLAND: Let's go to – is it June, I believe, in San Diego?
JEN (Caller, San Diego): Oh, hi. My name is Jen.
MYRLAND: Jen, it says J-n-e on my screen so I wasn't sure what it was.
JEN: Oh, that's close.
JEN: It may have just been a typo.
MYRLAND: Sure. So, Jen, please, make your comment.
JEN: Well, I'm going to say, first of all, you have a very hard job and it's one I certainly wouldn't want, and thanks for being brave enough to sit and kind of take our firing – being the firing squad. Now lessening the strength of the teachers union, and I know that that's going to upset a lot of teachers but we all know teachers who probably shouldn't be teaching and yet instead of letting them go, they're getting raises and they're getting tenured and they're getting to stay. And I think maybe that's something we should discuss with the union.
MYRLAND: I'd like to turn to Randy Ward on that because he's had a lot of experience in a lot of different school districts and different kinds of union contracts. And would you care to talk about some of the employment issues and the need to honor employment contracts when performance evaluations might not be as good as you would hope they would?
WARD: Well, I think we really do need to look at some of the legislature's views on these laws, the seniority law and performance issues. It's very difficult to buy – to lay off a Teacher of the Year, for example, and keep other teachers who are not doing the job that they should be doing. And so this is related to the larger class – the class size issue. The class size issue, Shelia Jackson is exactly right. We've – The proof is in the teacher. The quality of the teacher is so much more a percentage of what happens with children's learning than class size. As a matter of fact, I would say the class size reduction is very much overrated because the difference between 22, as Shelia Jackson said, to 24 or even 26, a quality teacher can get students to learn and help them to learn. And that's the major difference, and that's why Jan is so exactly right on this issue about quality has to come first. We should be looking at how to make sure that there's an accountability system in every classroom so that all children have a quality teacher.
MYRLAND: Okay, and, Shelia Jackson, now I don't expect you to go on the radio and challenge the teachers union, okay. That's another program and another discussion. But in general terms, do you think it would be a healthy thing to revisit some of the traditional employee-employer relationships and add into that mix more – a different kind of performance evaluation? Do you think that there is some room for improvement there?
MYRLAND: I'm trying to ask this in as non-incendiary way as I can…
JACKSON: Thank you.
MYRLAND: …so that you can actually give us an answer.
JACKSON: Thank you. Well, but let's say this: There's always room for improvement. And, certainly, Jan and other people's comments are taken and – and what we have to do – and this year we're working behind the scenes and we have an accountability piece for the principals. That accountability piece – and right now, the principals are required to get into the classroom at least 60% of the time. What that does is, it gives them opportunity to evaluate the teacher a little bit more, to see what they're doing in the classroom so that they can hold them accountable. When people talk about a teacher not being successful, the question becomes is that person, that teacher, being watched? And we used to know that a lot of times teachers would go in the classroom and they'd close the door and they would teach. But we made a sincere effort to ensure that the principals are getting in the classroom and documenting the teachers that need support, and providing that support so that we can transition teachers that maybe this is not their field of work or we can give them the skills they need to make them better. That is the bigger picture. I think a lot of people focus on the union part and it's not the union part, it is whether or not that person in the classroom is adequately trained to be in the classroom, and to be – and being monitored and given the skills that they need. And if they're not then even, I think, the unions would agree that person has to be transitioned.
TINTOCALIS: So I guess my question, Ms. Jackson, is how can you make sure these teachers are prepared when you are facing such difficult economic circumstances. I mean, how can you do that?
JACKSON: Oh, at – Well, it goes back to, number one, their staff development, which we're having a huge discussion at the district about now, as well as the principals' staff development as well. Staff development is a requirement and so what we're doing is, we're looking at the big picture, which I'm very happy about the transition in our district. We're becoming smaller, yes, leaner, yes, but more effective, yes. And I think one of the things that happens in larger urban districts is everything just gets siloed. So we're looking at integrated staff development and not just with the Unified School District. I know they're calling the County as well because during this time of economic crisis, we all can work together so we can ensure that all of our teachers' math requirement is up to date, that they're all familiar with new literacy policies. And that's what we're looking at doing. But the principals have to know how to evaluate, what to look for in the classroom so that they can make sure that they're – that the teacher is moving forward.
MYRLAND: I want to stay on the subject of teachers and turn to one of our callers. Vikas in San Diego has a comment, indeed, about teachers and particularly tenured teachers. So welcome to the program.
VIKAS (Caller, San Diego): Hello. Thank you for your comments. I definitely appreciate that it's all about the kids. However, I want to ask about the definition and what tenure means when tenured teachers are laid off. I think, talking about quality teachers and yet the profession and the environment surrounding us as teachers who dedicate our lives to that. You know, what – I don't know what – I – It's a sincere question. I'm confused what tenure means when I see tenured teachers being laid off…
MYRLAND: Let's ask…
VIKAS: …and how that contributes to, quote, quality teachers in the classroom.
MYRLAND: Let's ask that question of Randy Ward.
WARD: Well, you know, I'm afraid – I'm worried about the direction of the conversation because every time we talk about education and we talk about these kinds of items, it ends up looking like we're blaming teachers. And we're not blaming teachers. It's not – We certainly are not blaming teachers for the budget crisis. No one's to blame for the funding. The system is broken. There's – And we don't tend to talk about children and what's best for them in terms of their learning environment. And so the real issue is, how do we put a quality teacher…
WARD: …whether they're tenured, brand new, probationary contract, whatever you want to call them, how do we make sure that my four-year-old, my six-year-old in the public schools in Lakeside get a quality teacher in front of them? That makes the big difference.
MYRLAND: I do want to invite our listeners, again, to call and join us. We're going to be here for about 20 more minutes. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call, 1-888-895-KPBS to join this conversation. And it strikes me, and, Ana, I want to turn to you. It's almost unavoidable to talk about teachers when we're talking about a budget crisis like this because they're the largest cost of education. That's where the money is, right?
TINTOCALIS: Yeah, I mean, district officials all across the county will say personnel makes up the biggest part of their budget. So when you're looking at cutting, I mean, you have to take a look at that slice of the pie because it is so big. But I guess I just wanted to say, in the case of San Diego Unified, when you – when the district offers what's called a golden handshake, a plan that veteran teachers can retire early, what I've been thinking about in terms of teachers and instruction, impact of – to kids is when you have such a mass exodus of teachers—we're talking about more than 600 veteran teachers leaving San Diego Unified—what does that have in terms of impact to education given the economic situation. And I'm hoping to move forward on some of that reporting but in doing some preliminary work, in talking to some academics, one, at least, said, I think this is a great thing when you are letting go tenured teachers and veteran teachers, given the economic situation, bringing in new, young people that have a passion, you know, that are a little bit more tech savvy, that might be willing to shake things up a little bit, that's actually a good thing. Another thing that I just want to talk about in terms of teacher layoffs and letting folks go, San Diego Unified is one of the largest urban districts, I think the only one that is not going that route in terms of teachers' layoffs. The golden handshake is a huge reason. But I also think, and, Ms. Jackson, I wanted for you to comment a little bit on this, is I understand there's a lot of temporary teachers anyways in the district that have contracts that will be up anyway so they might not be renewed, so they might not be even coming back. So I think that is another big part of why you're not – we're not seeing teacher layoffs in the district.
JACKSON: And, yes, we do, each year, because of our size, we have anywhere from, I think, one to two hundred temporary teacher contracts. So you're looking at maybe close to, you know, almost 800 people we talk about between the teachers that are retiring due to SERP and the ones that are temporary contracts. That gives us a little bit of wiggle room as far as not laying off teachers. So this means that we will not be bringing in temporary teachers but what it also means is that the people that we have in our district has been here at least a year or more so we have some continuity and it's not that everybody coming in – we have the SERP and we're hiring in a lot of – a lot of new teachers. We would have some stability in our district but it's also good for the students in our district.
MYRLAND: We'll take a quick break but we will be back with your phone calls. We have several people waiting patiently to join in the discussion and we'll get to you right after this quick break.
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MYRLAND: I'm Doug Myrland. You're listening to These Days in San Diego. My guests are Ana Tintocalis, KPBS education reporter, Randy Ward, who's the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools, and the president of the Board of Trustees for San Diego Unified School District, Shelia Jackson. And, Shelia, we had a comment from a caller a little earlier about some programs that you actually preserved, at least so far, in the San Diego Unified District, and the comment was that they seemed like they were nice but perhaps not as high a priority as some other things that might be on the chopping block. So could you talk about that decision making process?
JACKSON: Yes, and that was the OCILE program. And the OCILE program is part of our district integration program and some of our longtime residents of the city would know that the district had a Carlin case which required us to integrate our schools and, actually, that has four components in our district. We have the OCILE, which is the Balboa sixth grade camp, and Old Town. We have a magnet program. We have a VEEP program, and then we have our race and relations program. So what the district is actually doing is looking at all of those programs to see which one has integrated our district the most, and then to look at investing in that to make sure that we're putting our money and investing where we are getting what we're required to do at the time by law, which was to make sure that all of our schools were integrated.
MYRLAND: Okay. I want to turn to Steve in Carlsbad and has a comment for us. Steve. Oh, we have lost Steve so we'll go to Chris in Normal Heights. Chris, welcome to the program.
CHRIS (Caller, Normal Heights): Yeah, good morning.
MYRLAND: Good morning.
CHRIS: Great show. I had a comment and two questions. My comment regarded caller Jan earlier and it seems that there's a perception out there that kind of irritates me that if we just got the greedy teachers union out of the way, we would – school funding would seem to be solved. And to relate to that, I had – the question that relates to that comment is, San Diego collects property taxes, or actually the state collects property taxes from San Diego and then gives a percentage of that money back. Now some of the money that we don't get back goes to other less tax supported school systems in the state. Does the state take more money than just that sharing and keep it for its General Fund coffers?
MYRLAND: Okay, let's turn to Randy Ward on that. I suspect he knows the answer.
WARD: Well, you know, our funds basically come back to us. And, you know, one of the things that I wanted to talk about was the idea that – I think Shelia Jackson and the school board, on this program, the Balboa Park, I've visited that program. That is a high quality program. I want my own children in that program. The sixth grade camp is not a frill program, it's a hands-on science, and with global warming and everything that's happening to us in the future, these are skills that we – our children must have. So I think they're rightfully so looking at quality as they look at their budget reductions and saying we want to keep the quality programs. I don't think it's an issue of unions. I don't think it's an issue – again, we're looking at the money issue.
MYRLAND: But as far as the fundamental question that Chris asked, the money that school districts collect in taxes basically comes back. You say that there isn't a significant percentage that stays someplace else?
WARD: Oh, no, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, we have a number of basic aid districts that receive their entire amount from their property tax and receive more money per student…
JACKSON: More credit…
WARD: …than the state aid. So, if anything, we're getting more than other counties. So that's not true at all.
MYRLAND: Okay, so let's go back to Chris because I know he has another question about letting teachers go.
CHRIS: Yeah, my other question was while it makes sense to save money by offering buyouts to what would be your most – your senior staff, which seems to me they would be the most experienced staff and perhaps the people able to, you know, successfully teach, you know, enlarged classrooms, how does that really affect the quality of the teaching level if you're letting those people go in order to actually hire more teachers because the dollars saved will allow you to hire a teacher and a half or a teacher and a quarter?
MYRLAND: Well, let me…
MYRLAND: I want to turn to Shelia Jackson on this because this is a real question you face. But is it too flip to say, well, it depends on the quality of the teacher that you hire to replace them?
JACKSON: Well, the bottom line for us is that we're not going to be really hiring any more teachers. For us, the only way that we will hire teachers is if we have a specialty area that we do not have a qualified teacher for. But the purpose of the SERP again was to allow us to have the ability not to lay off teachers but to keep our teaching staff that we currently have intact. Sometimes in the past, it has been that you could – you could do a SERP and then you can bring in some new teachers but in our case we're not really looking at bringing in new teachers unless there is a specialty area that we're under – we don't have staff for.
TINTOCALIS: And I think this was actually talked about at the school board meeting last night, is that now that, you know, the district is planning for a lot of veteran teachers to leave, you're having a lot of existing teachers being moved around the district and, you know, the word is excessed, you know, kind of moved around. So what you're feeling now is another tension of teachers who have formed relationships at their school, that might know their students, but because class sizes are going up they need to move around to where veteran teachers are now leaving, they have to fill that post. So you have, again, a lot of instability. And I just wanted to add that.
WARD: I'd like to add that I think that what we need to create in every school is a healthy balance.
MYRLAND: I want to turn to Diane in San Diego who has a comment for us. Diane, thanks for waiting patiently.
DIANE (Caller, San Diego): Thank you. I'm calling about a recent decision that I don't think I've gotten a lot of discussion and that is the decision to move the bell times by fifteen minutes…
MYRLAND: And that would be in…
DIANE: …in all San Diego Unified School District schools.
MYRLAND: In specifically – in San Diego Unified, right.
DIANE: And we were just notified, as parents, yesterday about this. And as a parent of two children who are in a already late-starting school—they start at 9:05 and go to 3:35—moving to 9:20 to 3:50, as a working parent, creates a real problem with me being able to keep a job because I already saunter into the office at 7:30. Sauntering in at ten o'clock isn't going to go over as well, and there are a lot of parents who have this same issue. And the other problem, how it affects children is, children who want to participate in after-school programs, sports, extracurricular activities, the arts, those programs all start at 3:30 or four o'clock. I can't get my kids to be able to participate in any extracurricular activities if they're not getting out of school until four o'clock.
MYRLAND: Okay, well, Diane, thanks for that. Shelia, explain to those of us who don't have kids in school how this is working and what the dif – what the change – what we were – where we were before and where we are now and why you did this.
JACKSON: Certainly a very heated discussion even at the board level. Right now – And the decision was made because we do have about 8,000 students that are riding on our buses in the morning. One way to save money that we did increase the amount of students required to have a bus from eight to 15, which gave us some cost savings. But the other item was that if you drive around some communities in the morning at – as early as six o'clock, there's students waiting for the bus and they, you know, did not want to continue that. And so what they did was, they shifted so that no school would start before 7:30. Now you find kids sitting on the bus at 6:30, 6:45. We did discuss the after school part because now those kids that we aren't starting as early in the morning are now getting home late, maybe some as late as seven o'clock in the evening at their – at certain schools in our district. So there is pros and cons to both the early start and the late start but that was one of the cost-saving measure that we did and shifting that fifteen minutes was able to save us some additional funding.
MYRLAND: So just so I understand, 9:20 sounds pretty late to start school. If somebody isn't riding the bus, if they're in a neighborhood situation, what are the provisions made at the school for them to get there earlier than 9:20? Is there any?
JACKSON: Well, I think that all of our schools, because our schools start at shifting levels to accommodate various, you know, bus routes, and I'm not sure that if we just automatically shifted all of those schools back if a school did not have like a lot of students coming to it, you know, via bus, if that school was allowed to stay at the same time, that I'm not sure of.
MYRLAND: Okay. And I didn't realize – see, I don't have any kids in school, so I didn't realize that different schools have different start times.
JACKSON: Oh, yes.
TINTOCALIS: And it's interesting because, Ms. Jackson, you actually, you know, when you talked about this internal kind of back and forth with the school board, you are one that says we should really consider stop busing kids all over the place.
TINTOCALIS: And – and so that was part of the whole discussion of busing, which is when they – when the San Diego Unified School Board finally did make some decisions on budget cuts, busing was one of the things that was looked at and so you will have longer bus rides, you'll have more buses packed with more kids, and kids will be walking farther to catch the bus. So that's kind of the results of some of the budget cuts.
JACKSON: Our goal is to make every school in our district a good quality school so if a child is on the bus, it is their parents', you know, choice to put that child on the bus, not a necessity as some people feel it is now. We spent a lot of money on busings, almost up to $20 million, which if that money's invested in schools would be better for the schools than, I think, in the busing.
MYRLAND: I want to go to Rudy in San Diego who has a comment for us. Rudy, thanks for joining us.
RUDY (Caller, San Diego): Thank you. Good morning. This is a question for Superintendent Ward. I don't feel that the problem is with the teachers or the union so much as the fact that here in, for example, San Diego County, we have at least in excess of 40 different school districts, each of which has a superintendent drawing a salary of, you know, in six the figures, a replication of staff effort, so why don't we consolidate a number of these school districts and save that money and instead devote it to the teachers and to the infrastructure?
MYRLAND: Okay, Randy Ward, what do you think about create – trying to politically create those kinds of efficiencies?
WARD: You know, that is a very good point. It's the first thing that hit me when I arrived, 42 school districts. We have some districts that have one school, districts, and other districts that have two or three schools. We even have some districts that have a fence in between them and one's an elementary district and one's a high school district. So – But I realize that politically it's a local decision and individuals need to make those decisions and communities need to make those decisions. And there used to be a time when the State of California gave great incentives, monetary incentives, for school districts to unify. Those don't exist anymore. As a matter of fact, it's the other way around. It's – There's a addition incentive now. And so I think the point is well taken. It's a very similar conversation to why do we – why shouldn't we consolidate schools?
WARD: You had administration, you have busing, you have all of that together. But the fact is, is that K-12 – K-12 education is taking a big hit on this go around and the last go around. We're getting a disproportionate share of the cuts, and I'd like to request, before the show ends, that the listeners, who care about their own local schools and local districts, call their legislators and at least ask for a balance, a proportionate amount of the cuts go to education. I'm not trying to pit us against the prisons, the mental health, etcetera, but at least we should have a balance.
MYRLAND: That's County Superintendent of Schools Randy Ward. And, Randy, I want to just follow up a little bit on the idea of the future and potential school district consolidation. Are those kinds of political changes the kind of thing that could also be suggested and studied at your level, at the county level? Is that something that you think it's appropriate for the county to weigh in on?
WARD: It could be done at the county and/or the state level. But, again, it is very much a local decision. And we've had a few in the past three years, of unification recommendations from school districts. They take about four to six years to even materialize.
MYRLAND: So we're really talking about something that might be of benefit in the future but really not any benefit, realistically, any time soon. And in the just a couple of minutes that we have left, I do want to talk about the future a little bit. I don't want to put too many rose-colored glasses on but, surely, Shelia Jackson, you must be thinking that at some point in the future some of these difficult choices that you've made, some program, some activity, some aspects, you may want to restore. What's at the top of your list when you have a chance to do that? What’s the most painful decision that you had to make lately and what will you put back as soon as you can?
JACKSON: I think our class size would probably be the first thing. We are working very hard with our professional development, both for principals and teachers, and so I think having that in place and then ensuring that we have adequate, you know, a smaller class size will ensure us the success that we need. I just really recently had a community meeting and the community, the first thing that they said, was that they think that class size and a integrated curriculum were their two top priorities. And so looking at that, I think would be my two top priorities as well.
MYRLAND: Okay, well, thank you very much and thank you also to Randy Ward, who's the County Superintendent of Schools, for sticking with us for the whole hour. And especially to Ana Tintocalis, thank you for all your work on these stories over the months, and for coming in and joining us today. And thanks to all our listeners who took part, and for those of you who we didn't have time to get to, we sure hope we can do it next time. Thanks for listening, and you are listening to These Days in San Diego.