Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Math Strikes San Diego Unified

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has sent out layoff warnings to over 1600 teachers and other employees for the next school year. The math behind the problem is simple. Part of the reason for the layoffs has to do with promises made in the past with the bill coming due now. From the City Beat:
Roughly $39 million of San Diego Unified’s $122-million deficit is the result of a deal the district struck in 2010 with the San Diego Education Association (SDEA), the union that represents teachers. The teachers agreed to cut one week off the school calendar for two years (reducing pay by 2.7 percent each year); in exchange, the district agreed to raise pay a little more than 4 percent for the upcoming school year (2012-13) and another 3 percent in 2013-14 and add that week back to the calendar.
Why the SDUSD assumed that they would have the money for these pay raises in the future is unknown to me. Much of the district's funding comes from the California state government. The state's finances are not improving. Given our high rates of taxation of all kinds, I am sure that California will lag any national recovery.

The unions are resisting any concessions, of course, and seem willing to put their heads in the sand and let the layoffs roll on. Meanwhile Scott Barnett of the SDUSD considers the nuclear option, if only to get the unions to bargain in their own best interests:
“In theory,” he says, “we could not do the layoffs, which is what the union wants, but then still come to an agreement with the unions on concessions—on salary cuts and so forth—if they don’t want a trustee to take over. In some ways, I’m wondering if the unions will ever seriously negotiate if they don’t believe we are going to go under. So, it’s truly an Armageddon solution.”

If he decides to vote that way, Barnett would need to convince at least two of his four colleagues on the Board of Education to do the same—a tall order because if the unions don’t buckle, it could amount to political suicide for the board.

The district is asking for these specific concessions to avoid layoffs:

The San Diego school board has been pushing for concessions since last summer. In January, Superintendent Bill Kowba put the request in writing, calling on the teachers union and the district’s five other bargaining units to:

• Save jobs by forgoing a series of pay raises set to begin in July.

• Extend furlough days for a third year, which amounts to eliminating five school days, cutting teacher pay 2.7 percent annually.

• Pay more for health insurance for any provider except Kaiser, which would continue to be offered to all employees and their dependents free of charge.

I notice that every labor dispute includes the issue of health care costs, with employers trying to get employees to pay a greater share. This is not a sign that Obamacare is bending the cost curve downward. In reality, by mandating coverages that not everyone wants, the administration is increasing labor strife and employment costs for the whole nation.

Proof that this is about the numbers and not ideology comes from a member of the board who is also a teacher.
Trustee and math teacher Kevin Beiser [pictured] made an emotional plea to unions and district officials, urging them to find a way to save jobs.

"I am a teacher and I am going to be voting to lay off my friends," Beiser said, his voice cracking at the dais."I implore the leaders of every single group or organization in this district to come together."

The schools in the state are over burdened with all sorts of requirements and too high a staff to teacher ratio. This results in costs per student that are much higher than well run Catholic schools in Chicago by way of comparison. Further, principles are not given the freedom to manage the budget for their own schools. A quasi-market economy could be achieved if principles were given power over their own budgets, could hire and fire teachers and parents could move their kids to any school in the district they wanted to. These ideas need not destroy public schools and might save them. But like any improvement, the unions will oppose them to the death. Given the dire straits of school financing, they may get their way.


  1. Well outlined! And the title says it all.

  2. A reduction in the amount of time worked yet a net pay raise. Did I read that correctly?


  3. Dean, No they are proposing to save money by cutting number of school days, with proportional cut to pay. B

  4. Math is a tough concept for the liberal