Roundtable: Unkind Cuts at SD Unified
On Tuesday, the Board of Trustees of the San Diego Unified School District gave the green light to a new budget for the school year. One school board member put it this way: the budget is going to cause grave damage to our schools in San Diego.
Guests: Kyla Calvert, Education Reporter, KPBS News
John Warren, Editor, San Diego Voice and Viewpoint
David Rolland, Editor, San Diego CityBeat
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.
PENNER: Let's start right out with on Tuesday, the San Diego Unified board of education gave the green light to a new budget for the school year. One school board member put it this way, "the budget is going to cause grave damage to our schools in San Diego." Kyla, what is this budget that promoted such a negative response?
CALVERT: The budget approved Tuesday includes about a hundred and preen million dollars in cuts from the previous year. This is the fourth year of funding cuts from the district. I think the board members feel the district is beyond cutting to the bone. I think this makes a total of four hundred million that's been cut from the district's budget over the last four years.
PENNER: Where are they gonna get all these cuts from? Was the budget based on the most optimistic of state projections or the worst case scenario?
CALVERT: The budget was based on the governor's may revise. Actually it'll change again probably based on the budget that was passed earlier this week and signed by the governor last night. So it wasn't the absolute worst case scenario. It did include about 32 million more dollars than they thought it would before the governor came back with his may revise. It's not as bad as they thought it could be, but it's certainly not any good.
PENNER: Let me ask our listeners. If you are one of those who has a child who goes to school in the San Diego Unified school district, what could you think this is going to mean to the students attending the district schools? 1-888-895-5727. What do you think they're gonna lose? John warren, let me ask you that question. What's gonna happen to these kids?
WARREN: Well, the kids are gonna suffer as they always have when we have had cuts. Larger classroom sizes. The one descending member of the board withheld his vote of support because he thought maybe instead of pre-K through 12 that pre-K or the earlier grades that the increased class sizes should be junior high or high school. But we're gonna see it across the board from landscaping to the administrative staff, superintendents in region areas. Nothing is really spared. The clothing of buildings, perhaps selling off of some school properties. And so the list goes on and on in terms of any area of loss, revenues, in terms of librarian, police officers, school nurses, the whole gamut.
PENNER: So we're really gonna be bare bones in the city school district. As far as you're concerned, David, when we think about the positions that are being lost, i said 1400, that did include the librarians and the nurses, and all that. But we also have several hundred teachers. What is this going to mean to what actually happens in the classroom?
ROLLAND: I think john touched on it. For me, it goes to class sizes. I think that's -- I'm no education expert or anything, but it seems to me that the more individualized attention you can give a child the better off that child's gonna be. So i think it's the class size that really is where it gets felt. What do you do when you have to keep cutting year after year? You can negotiate with the teachers for compensation decreases in order to keep those class sizes up and the number of school days will static. Or they are talking about if we come back under the governor's plan, if revenues aren't what was projected under this budget, we're gonna come back midyear and make more cuts. But i think the teachers' union was able to build in some protections there.
PENNER: Protections in what sense?
ROLLAND: I believe, and Kyla may know this better than i do, based on what I've seen is that they were able to negotiate no midyear teacher layoffs, i believe. So i think what would happen there is furloughs, then you also have to negotiate those with the unions. So I'm not sure -- it leaves the districts with very, very few choices in terms of that midyear correction if revenues aren't up.
CALVERT: The districts are at this point still trying to hammer out what the budget and that layoff protection law will mean for them. I spoke with Richard Barrera this morning and he was saying that it looks like the state budget will actually result in some layoff recisions.
PENNER: What does that mean?
CALVERT: Recalling those teachers.
PENNER: So have they actually been notified that they're going to be laid off?
CALVERT: Oh, yes. The budget on Tuesday night included the authorization of those 1400 layoffs. If the state budget does play out for the school district the way Richard Barrera was telling me this morning he thinks it will, they will be able to recall about 540 teachers and certify -- or classified employees, and that would keep the class sizes in the kindergarten through third grade classrooms at their current levels, which is a 24 to 1 student to teacher ratio. As things stand right now, those classes are going to increase to 29 and a half. But about 30 students per teacher in those grades except for first grade.
PENNER: This is so strange. It's like taking away with one hand and giving with another. It's almost as though nobody really wants to commit themselves to an absolute. An absolute truth. This is what's going to happen. John?
WARREN: Well, i have a couple of thoughts. 40†years ago, California led the nation as the model in terms of public education. Everyone was trying to be like California. The losses we are talking about now in terms of class size represent things we have fought for many decades. We know that the learning is better when the classes are smaller. We've already lost many, many of the teachers aides, and the title one support. It's a regression that has phenomenal consequences, and the tragedy of it is that we're so caught up in the next budget cycle that we're not even taking the time to look at the impact. Education is the one thing we have to look forward with.
PENNER: When you're looking way forward, you're looking forward to the workforce that will have to populate San Diego's jobs. What does this say about San Diego's future in general if you don't have a well educated workforce?
ROLLAND: San Diego and all of California. I happened to be before i came here i attended assemblyman Nathan fletcher and city council president tony young have launched this education listening tour that -- that's what they call it. They have a pseudo private meetings with people who are invested in the education system, trying to get ideas how to fix it. One of the things talked about today was the fact that so many foreign -- people from foreign countries come in here, they're educated here, they still get a decent postsecondary education mostly, then they go back to their home countries and apply the knowledge that they learned. So not only are we educating them, but we're not getting the benefit from them. And i think that goes to what you're asking.
PENNER: Right. That's a very strongly political issue that you've just raised. We educate people here, send them back, they bring the value back to their home countries. Let's take a call now. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. We're talking about education in San Diego, what's happening to it in the k-12th†district. Lori Saldaña is with us now from Clairemont. Assembly woman Saldaña, welcome.
New speaker: Hi, thank you, good afternoon. I wanted to comment. I actually grew up in the public school system in California from elementary school on, and i think people don't appreciate how much we've already lost because it's sort of death by a thousand cuts over the last several years. And all of the enrichment programs are gone, after school activities are gone. Music, a lot of sports, all the things that help keep students engaged in their classroom activities were cut a long time ago. When people say what more can we cut? It will be the teacher layoffs, of course. We're hoping that revenues will continue to increase in the state. We'll see larger class sizes. As a teacher i know that that means that the students who are english learners who have chronic healthcare needs, their performance is going to struggle.
PENNER: Let me ask you a question, Lori, do you think that the parents of these kids are aware of what their educational future is?
New speaker: We have a great divide -- remember, title one was mentioned. Two thirds of our students are at such low poverty meals that they qualify for free meals at their campuses in San Diego Unified school district. We have parents struggling to make ends meet at home, and the more affluent communities, they're doing much better. The parents in la Jolla write checks to the school to help billed up the sports programs and the other programs. The parents in city heights and other communities, they are the ones that could never write checks to supplement what's been taken away.
ROLLAND: Lori's absolutely right and everything. I agree with everything she just said. She mentioned going back a couple of years. It certainly as she would agree with, I'm sure, it goes back a lot farther than that. John mentioned 40†years ago California was leading the nation. We're now, i think, 47th in the country in --
WARREN: 57 i think.
ROLLAND: Per capita spending.
PENNER: 57th --
ROLLAND: Among states.
WARREN: Oh, sorry.
ROLLAND: I meant California not San Diego county. So it goes back to the fateful decisions were made i think in the late '70s. One of them was prop 13. Prop 13 did two things. It reduced the amount of property taxes that were being collected. And it also took away the power to spend those property taxes from local government and gave the power over education funding to the state. And so those two things, i think, play a huge role in the problems we're having today. I think the way everything is funded in this state is completely broken. For education, but for social services and everything else, the whole budget needs to be sort of overhauled and we need to redo the process.
PENNER: David, you're giving us a very sad story. Probably the saddest is the story of the teachers who are going to be let go because despite what happens at the state, it does sound as though there are gonna be some teachers let go. Kyla, how is it gonna be decided which teachers go and which stay?
CALVERT: It's based on seniority. So it depends on how long you've been with the district. And that's --
PENNER: That's it: Whatever happened to the idea of letting teachers go or keeping teachers based on the evaluation of the teachers rather than seniority? John?
WARREN: You're talking about the whole merit pay argument. The unions have always opposed that argument because they felt that it would do the disservice to the seniority element. The reality is that younger teachers cost less than older teachers. So that's a part of the problem in terms of the system. There's one key element left out here. The teachers who are recalled, if the worst case scenario triggers with the budget that the governor signed, those people could be facing midyear layoffs when the union agreements do not allow for midyear layoffs. The idea that you can take away seven days at the end of the school year does not necessarily address the budget crisis that could occur.
CALVERT: They did that last year. Took away five days of the school year, which keeps teachers whole i suppose in terms of pay. But it does nothing for me.
PENNER: I'm sure we'll be covering this story as we watch what happens over the summer months and after we get into the fall semester. And i want to thank our editors for joining in this discussion, and Kyla as well. Next we're gonna be talking about the new district boundaries approved by the board of supervisors and objections to that redistricting by the ACLU, and some minority groups.