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2011: San Diego’s Top Education Stories

Teachers, parents, students and administrators have testified at Board of Edu...

Photo by Kyla Calvert

Above: Teachers, parents, students and administrators have testified at Board of Education meetings since March about how budget cuts will hurt their schools. Some held up signs asking for restoration of the district's Community-Based English Tutoring program at a meeting earlier this year.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

What were the top stories that affected you in 2011?

As we approach the end of 2011, KPBS is taking a look back on those stories that impacted San Diegans. Today we discuss the top education stories with KPBS Education Reporter Kyla Calvert.

Budget cuts shaped a lot of the conversation about education this year. We'll talk about how dramatic reductions to state funding have impacted the public schools and universities and their students in San Diego County. There were also bright spots amid the budget gloom, San Diego State’s new president, the approaching 10th anniversary of No Child Left Behind and other topics that kept teachers, parents and students buzzing this year.

A look back at some of the notable education stories of 2011:

Most Trigger Cuts Coming, But K-12 School Days Spared (December)

Cal State Tuition Will Rise Again, This Time 9% (November)

San Diego Unified’s Bond Rating Downgraded (October)

SDSU To Offer First LGBT Degree On West Coast (October)

University Cuts Could Wound San Diego Economy (September)

Test Scores Rise At Many San Diego Schools (August)

Sweetwater Tries To Recover With New Superintendent (July)

New SDSU President Gets Whirlwind Introduction (July)

Chronically Absent Students Cost County Schools Millions (June)

San Diego Schools Will Issue Hundreds of Final Layoff Notices (May)

CSU To Reduce Enrollment Because Of Funding Cuts (March)

San Diego School Lunchrooms Go Green (March)

UCSD, SDSU Ranked In List Of 100 Best College Values (January)

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Transcript Disclaimer

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: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Stories about budget cuts have dominated education news in San Diego this year. Cutbacks and state funding have dramatically affected both K through 12, and higher education. Upon but tough budgets were not the only education stories of 2011. Here to take a look back at the top stories on her beat is KPBS education reporter Kyla Calvert ver. Welcome back.

CALVERT: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I know we spent an awful lot of time talking about budget woes for schools and universities this year. Is there anything to say about that that perhaps we haven't heard?

CALVERT: I don't know if there's anything we haven't heard. But the thing that sort of remains interesting for me is just the way that those budget cuts really affect people in San Diego. San Diego public schools opened this year with 1,000 fewer staff members. Just over 400 of those people were teachers. Then the rest were support staff. So that's something that's really affecting the lives of people who live in the city. There was a long conversation about closing just over -- closing or restructuring just over a dozen campuses across the city for public schools, and that was also part of the billion cuts. Part of their efforts to save money, but when the proposals were brought to the public, a lot of people showed up at the board meetings and talked to board members about why they didn't want to see their schools closed. And we have some of that tape now.

NEW SPEAKER: We want to finish school together. Don't do this.

NEW SPEAKER: I'm pleading with you. Please, do not close coverly.

CALVERT: So the board members ended up deciding not to go forward with the closings. Even though that had been the ten-month process of identifying those schools. That was sort of a controversy that ended up not happening exactly


CALVERT: And then at the university, both the UC, and the CSU system saw tuition increases. The UC tuition went up about 10% in July, are the trustees or the regents voted on that increase. And San Diego state students are paying over 25% more this year than they were previously. And we know that last month, the CSU trustees approved another 9% increase. That meeting was halted temporarily by student protestors who were protesting the ongoing cuts to higher ed, CSU faculty struck for one day in November. So people are really feeling these cuts. It's difficult for SDSU students to get all the classes they need to graduate in four years

CAVANAUGH: It's gone beyond the idea of just -- partner the pun, academic moving money around in a budget. These cuts are really being felt. UCSD is now saying they're afraid they'll become less competitive for great teachers, right? For prominent faculty members.

CALVERT: Right. They saw three very prominent -- I think cancer researchers, leave for a private university in Texas. And in the faculty shopping process, Marianne fox, are the chancellor, has said that they feel the university is less competitive now.

CAVANAUGH: And I know that we're going to try to talk about things coming up in the next year, but these budget cuts are not going to go away any time soon.

CALVERT: No. When Governor Brown made the announcement about the mid-year cuts, he said, you know, when his January budget comes out, it's going to include more cuts to the same kinds of services.

CAVANAUGH: Getting away from the money issues, because really that dominated our conversation. And there are some things we might not have heard about that. Big stories in San Diego, big education stories. San Diego state got a new president just this summer. And tell us about him.

CALVERT: Elliot herb man is now the San Diego state president. He followed Steven weber. And he came from the University of Maryland, Baltimore county, where he was sort of the second in command and oversaw academics and athletics. And his focus is very much on maintaining community ties, increasing or maintaining access to the universities for low-income students and students who are the first in their families to attend college. And also I think he is sort in the mould of a spokesperson for the university than necessarily a university professor. SDSU is in the middle of this $500†million fundraising campaign, which is the way that all of the state universities are turning because they can't rely on the state dollars. So they're really beefing up their fundraising departments. And that's not a muscle they have had to flex in the past. So I think he's much more that person who's going to do a lot of handshaking and bringing in the private dollars. But at the same time, you can't really get away from the budget conversation because he came in and his salary was $100,000 more than his predecessors, and that gained staid-wide attention. And we have Gavin nusom talking about the trustees

NEW SPEAKER: We're not only raising your fees and the cost and limiting in some cases access, but we're also providing compensation that has the governor pointed out is two times greater than that of the Supreme Court chief justice.

CALVERT: Governor Brown was saying that CSU and the state in general needs to be looking for the kind of people who are committed to public service and who aren't necessarily coming for big compensation packages. But at the same time, herbman's $400,000 salary, and the additional perks fall in the middle of where public university presidents are in terms of compensation. And San Diego is a very high-cost of living place to be. So there's sort of people on both sides of the argument. And a few months after herb man was brought into the university, the SDSU basketball coach whose name escapes me at the moment, signed a new contract where he's getting a salary that's twice as large

CAVANAUGH: Coach fisher

CALVERT: That's right. It's almost twice what herb man's and. And there was not any uproar over that.

CAVANAUGH: No, that paled in comparison. But it goes to show that every single dollar that the systems are spending now is coming under scrutiny because of the tuition hikes, and because there are not that many dollars left to go around. Speaking of controversy, sweetwater high school district in the Southbay was the source of a lot of controversial and interesting news this year. Give us an overview of what's been going on.

CALVERT: They have been getting a lot of attention I don't think they really welcomed. All year, the San Diego Union Tribune was doing several -- or did several investigative stories about their previous student. First it came out that he had invited district vendors to his daughter's bridal shower where there was a money tree, which sort of gave the appearance of impropriety. Then he was also found to be using district credit cards for expensive lunches that he already had an extense account for. And also there was a grade changing controversy at a high school and middle school. The woman who led their food services department was selling her own line of products in the school cafeterias. Just sort of wide-ranging mismanagement. And so the school district let him go or he resigned.

CAVANAUGH: Removed. A very dramatic meeting that ended at 2:00 in the morning.

CALVERT: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, I remember that.

CALVERT: Exactly. And they broad in Ed brand who had been the superintendent before. And he -- actually they just gave him a permanent contract for three years a couple weeks ago. And he had at the beginning of the school year, they held a big parent summit where parents came in, and sort of voted on the actions that the school district was taking to remedy some of the mismanagement. And I caught up with pearl kinnionez at that, and here's what she said about theier going forward. &%F0 &%F0

NEW SPEAKER: We're going to sit down and figure out how we're going to make it better. We're going to take feedback from everybody and make it right

CAVANAUGH: You would think after that that that was enough controversy to go on in sweetwater district for the entire year. But as it turns, just recently another thing.

CALVERT: Right. The District Attorney has -- I don't know if raided is the right term. But pearl kinnionez's home, and some other board members and district vendors, they took away computers and papers and things like that. Apparently sort of the investigation into the management of the school district is ongoing

CAVANAUGH: Do we know what they were looking for

CALVERT: No, they wouldn't comment. They didn't arrest anybody. They just took materials away.

CAVANAUGH: Well, OKAY, so we'll have to stay tuned and see what happens at Sweetwater school district. You did a long investigative project this year about school earthquake safety. Tell us what you found out.

CALVERT: Well, the project started with a list called the AB300 list, and AB300 is a bill of the -- assembly bill 300 that was passed in the late '90s, and it required the division of the state actor tech this oversees the school buildings in California to do a review of plans of schools that were built before 1978. In 1978, there were some significant building code upgrades that resulted from an earthquake, a big earthquake in 1976, I think

CAVANAUGH: Is this what we commonly refer to as a retrofit?

CALVERT: Well, this was just a review of plans. So what they did was sort of go through the blueprints and see if the older construction met the 1978 standards. From that review they came up with this list of thousands of school buildings across the state that basically what they said about this list was that the safety of these buildings in the event of a major earthquake is an unknown quantity, sort of. And so they said districts would have to do is bring in a structural engineer to review the buildings that were on this list to determine whether they required something like a retrofit.


CALVERT: And so -- but the thing is, initially -- so the list came out in about 2002. And it was just released to the legislators and the governor. But there was nothing done about it.

CAVANAUGH: Done. That's the word you're searching for. Nothing done.

CALVERT: Exactly. There was no law passed requiring districts to do these inspections. There was a very, very small amount of money, something like $100†million made available to help districts made for the inspections. Then there were some very onerous limitations put on the money to make it only accessible to sort of the districts that were determined to be in the highest risk areas. And so basically what happened is, well, nothing, you know? By and large, districts just shuffled the paper away. And --

CAVANAUGH: What does that mean here in San Diego? What are we looking at?

CALVERT: There are about 300 -- just over 300 buildings on the list in San Diego. We started with about 320, and some of these buildings just never got built because it was just a paper review of plans in the state office. So there were about 300 existing buildings, and about 200 of them never were inspected. So they were still being used, and they were still in this unknown category. And that was as of this summer. Half of those buildings were in the Southbay union elementary school district in imperial beach,s. It's a very small school district. And I think they just did a lot of construction in the 1950s or so. And so all of their buildings fall into thissing about because when a school district does construction, it's not like they're designing totally new buildings for each project. And they brought in an inspector to determine whether they're safe. I spoke -- and they're going to cost the district.

CAVANAUGH: And just a last quick hit, if we could get it, there were some national issues that we've seen played out in San Diego schools. If you could just briefly tell us about the student health and obesity.

CALVERT: Sure. I think that's something that's really interesting. Across the country we see is that obesity is a growing problem. And Chula Vista elementary school district did a height and weight survey of all of their students last year and found the rate of obesity in their schools outstripped the national average. So they're doing things like health fairs and revising the districts' health and wellness policies. Trying to tackle that head- on.

CAVANAUGH: I've got to cut you off there because we're just simply out of time. Buttin the next thing we're probably going to talk about is Jerry Brown's budget draft in January.


CAVANAUGH: Then we'll be back to talking about budget cuts.

CALVERT: Never going to go away.


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