Sweetwater School Board Approves Potential Layoffs To Close Budget Deficit
Speaker 1: 00:00 Parents of students in the Sweetwater union high school district made their displeasure known at a packed school board meeting last night. Speaker 2: 00:15 [inaudible]. Speaker 1: 00:16 But in the end, the district school board voted to lay off more than 200 school employees to help close a $30 million budget deficit. Teachers, counselors and librarians are among the positions on the chopping block along with all of the district's learning centers, which provide one on one instruction to students. KPBS education reporter Joe hung was at the pact meeting last night and he joins us now. And Joe, welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. Tell us about the mood at the meeting last night. Speaker 3: 00:45 Uh, it was a lot of anger, a lot of anger, a lot of frustration and a lot of just sort of sadness and emotional exhaustion really from both parents, but also teachers who are just furious and, uh, librarians who are all being cut, uh, in, in this proposal. And, um, I think the most sort of impactful part of this was the decision to lay off all the, um, to give layoff notices to all the teachers in the learning centers. In the district, which sort of serves students who have, uh, unique needs, let's say. So it could be, uh, anyone from teenage moms to students with severe anxiety who sort of need a, a more tailored classroom setting. And, uh, Danella Burke was one of the students from one of the learning centers who spoke last night. And I have a clip of that Speaker 4: 01:35 from the very first day I started, my counselor told me that I was told me that being with the learning center, I wouldn't have the access to all the services of main campus. Like all my peers. I felt like I've been treated like all my peers except for now, now I feel like you're taking away a program that helps kids like me. The learn center has helped me. It's too many ways. Speaker 1: 02:00 That's really heartbreaking. That's a student who is not going to be able to go to the learning centers because sweet water high school district has voted to get rid of them. How has Sweetwater accumulated this budget deficit, this $30 million budget deficit? Speaker 3: 02:17 So it's, it's a wide variety of things, you know. And, um, I, I've, I have been here for less than a year and I've covered education before. But, um, this is really the first time I've seen a school district where a, the budget deficit comes from so many things. It comes from them underestimating their payroll. It comes from, they, they missed some of the debt that they owed and didn't calculate that into a past year's budget. So, uh, it really comes from a variety of different, um, sort of, uh, forms of fiscal mismanagement. Speaker 1: 02:49 And how much are these layoffs and shutdowns expected to save the judges. Speaker 3: 02:53 So they're expected to save about 20 million. So, which would, uh, basically take the, uh, the district out of County oversight. So they had to close about $15 million to, to have the County step away from, um, supervising their budget. Speaker 1: 03:09 So the, does this decision was approved by a three to two vote of the Sweetwater school board? What are the board members who voted against it? Have to say? Speaker 3: 03:18 So one of the chance, uh, I heard last night from the teachers and, and the protestors were, were, were a cut from the top. And the two board members who voted against these cuts, uh, Nicholas Segura and Paula hall sort of echoed that and said, look, we haven't looked at the district administration and we haven't looked at making the central office more efficient. We're going straight to the teachers and, and that, and they didn't want to make cuts in services that directly affects students. Speaker 1: 03:47 Is Sweetwater union school district still being audited by the state over potential fraud in the budget? Speaker 3: 03:52 Yeah, so there was a state audit that sort of launched, uh, early 2019 in about February and it's been sort of quiet since then. And, uh, it's still ongoing. Yeah. Speaker 1: 04:03 So several people you spoke with last night talked about the impact of these layoffs, but especially as you say, the closing of the district learning centers. What did they tell you? Speaker 3: 04:13 So, uh, I spoke with one student, um, yesterday after the meeting. Her name is Michi and, uh, she told me she doesn't know what she's gonna do and, um, because she, she needs this program to graduate. Right. But a solution that the district has proposed is, uh, put these students in a preexisting independent study program, but, uh, students are, are skeptical saying as soon as like Mitchie actually came from the independent study programs. So, uh, it's still sort of up in the air right now. Speaker 1: 04:47 So they haven't actually figured out where these students are going to go. They have a rough proposal saying that we'll put these students in the independent study programs, but beyond that, it's, it's unclear. Pink slips for the Sweetwater staff will be going out by the middle of next month. But is this the end of the story? I mean, couldn't some of these teachers and staff still be rehired? Speaker 3: 05:07 Yes. So, uh, at the end of the year, the school district will do an assessment of retirements, resignations, and then from there they'll look at, uh, how many spots they have to fill. And among the teachers who did receive layoff notices, they'll go by seniority and refill those positions. Speaker 1: 05:25 I have been speaking with KPBS education reporter Joe Hong. Joe. Thank you. Thank you.