New Schools CFO: SD Unified has ‘Hundreds of Excess Employees’

New Schools CFO: SD Unified has ‘Hundreds of Excess Employees’

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Stanley Dobbs is chief financial officer of the San Diego Unified School District.

 

Update: Read San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba’s response to this story here. We also Fact Checked new San Diego Unified CFO Stan Dobbs’ claim that teachers get paid an average of $92,000 a year with $20,000 in benefits. That’s False. The $92,000 includes benefits.

I’ve done a lot of interviews with officials at the San Diego Unified School District, including most of the school board members. I’ve sat down with the unions and the reformists the academics and the kids themselves.

Nothing really prepared me for Stan “Data” Dobbs.

San Diego Unified’s new chief financial officer is a Naval Air Force veteran. He once helped to manage more than 200,000 people, 3,800 aircraft, 11 aircraft carriers and an annual budget of more than $40 billion. He’s worked at two school districts before coming here, and is a self-described problem-solver.

“I get bored quickly if I don’t have enough problems to solve,” he said.

Dobbs is also not scared of talking about controversial issues. In an extraordinarily frank interview in his office Thursday morning, the enigmatic South Carolina native held forth on everything from the district footing 100 percent of employee health care bills (“that’s just ridiculous,”) to teacher pay (“Is $92,000 a year not good money?”) to what he sees as gross overstaffing in the state’s second-largest district (“I’ve got hundreds of extra people laying around.”)

I’ve selected some key parts of our conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

With the problem-solving background you have, is there a part of you that thinks there’s more to solve in this district than simply the finances?

Trust me, if you could be a fly on the wall in some of our meetings.

Coming to San Diego Unified, I look at things from a perspective of a total solution. Someone else might come and say, “I’m in charge of finances, this is my swath of the land, that’s all I deal with,” I look at it from the standpoint that it’s not about fiscal solvency; our business is about educational solvency.

My goal is: How do I ensure that the limited resources we have help us to reach the educational goals that we’ve decided we’re going to have for the children in our community.

I can find the money. You just need to tell me what you want to do.

How do you find extra money, when 92 percent of the district’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits?

We don’t have a grant-writing program in the district. Every district I’ve been in, I’ve hired grant writers and I’ve always gotten at least 3,000 times’ return on investment by doing so.

People have this belief that if you increase class sizes, it has a negative impact on student learning.

That is not documented, proven anywhere. Actually, there’s not one piece of literature published to prove that. As a matter of fact, just the opposite.

You’ll have quite a battle on your hands with the current school board if you start talking about increasing class size.

It’s that sort of entitlement mentality that’s going to kill us.

How do you get around that issue? How do you make sure the school board is on the same page as you and buys into your philosophy?

It’s how you introduce the potential conflict.

Everything I did in the military wasn’t necessarily well-received, so you had to look at how to introduce this information in a way that was clear, concise, data-driven so someone could receive the same conclusion.

So, bottom line, you believe there are more things you can do to save money?

Oh hell yeah.

Yeah, without a doubt.

The district has done a lot to go through and look at how they can save money, but in my professional way of approaching it, they just did low-hanging fruit stuff.

And I wouldn’t have expected them to go any deeper, because they don’t have the tools to do that.

That’s why you’re here?

That’s why I’m here.

I only go to troubled districts. I get bored quickly if I don’t have enough problems to solve.

You have a school board that has a history of saying they will go and do things and then turning around at the last minute and stopping doing them. A good example would be closing small, underperforming schools.

(Deputy Superintendent of Business) Phil Stover is so exasperated with this that at every step of the way, before he has his staff do stuff, he goes back to the board and says, “Are you sure you want us to do this?”

How do you work with that?

I did the same thing for this attrition-based model [A model Dobbs introduced last month that requires the district to not re-hire staff members who quit or retire].

They said they want a solution, here it is. This is what they’ve got to do.

I would say to you, watch what the board do.

They’ve got to show their commitment by saying, “This might not sit so well in my gut, it might go against my principles, but this is what we committed to do so we wouldn’t have to lay off 1,300 people,” and vote yes.

And if they do anything other than that, that’s our first indication that they’re not going to follow through with what they said they were going to do.

We passed measure Z, a $2.8 billion bond measure and, guess what, I’ve got to go to the bond market and sell those bonds.

I’ve got to go to Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s and make our case for us to have a good financial positioning so we can get the lowest interest rate possible to be paid by the taxpayers.

That’s a huge risk.

If we can’t show any dedication to the fact that we can manage our money, manage our finances, manage our business, then how can we get investors to buy our stock, so to speak?

If they decide they’ll buy it, but they want more interest, we’ll sell it to them but guess who’s got to pay that price? The taxpayers have to pay a higher interest rate now and hundreds of millions of dollars on that $2.8 billion because we couldn’t manage our finances, we couldn’t make decisions.

Everything’s on the line.

How can you have transparency when the budget is so complicated?

Nobody’s ever shown me a budget document I understand at this district. Is that doable?

It’s totally doable.

There was probably a strategic plan in the past to have a convoluted budget where you can’t follow the money because it’s part of your defensive strategy.

In my old district, they had a mall, and I made a statement that if I had to put a kiosk in the mall, with a keyboard and a terminal, where you can walk up and pull up the special ed budget and expenses or whatever budget, for people to understand that we want transparency, that’s what I’m willing to do.

If I’ve got to do that in [a local mall], then that’s what we’ve got to do, because it’s taxpayer money.

It is public money. You have the right to know about every dime and where it’s spent.

One of your challenges is that you have a school board that is largely supported by labor unions …

They ain’t largely supported, they are supported by the labor unions.

Placed, strategically, by the labor unions.

So, let’s say we get through to 2014, and we get to the point that we start to get more money from Proposition 30, how do we ensure all of that money doesn’t get swallowed up by a new labor agreement?

What you’re really asking is how you ensure fiscal solvency.

There is a game-over point.

If little Johnnie can’t read and somebody does an article about how little Johnnie can’t read, nobody from Sacramento is going to come down here and say something to us about that.

Somebody might send somebody an email or make a phone call to the superintendent to say, “That’s a shame that little Johnnie’s in 10th grade and can’t read.”

But the day you can’t pay little Johnnie’s teacher, game over.

The whole goal is that the 92 percent [of the day-to-day budget that is spent on staff] doesn’t get bigger.

But it all depends what we do with the new money from the governor. If we increase our expenses, by giving raises or whatever, that 8 percent is going to get smaller.

I’m running a district, literally, off 8 cents on the dollar. You’ve got to ask yourself, at what point does this become a crisis? Is the crisis at 5 percent, 7 percent? No, the crisis was when we were at 85 percent [spent on salaries and wages].

How does that 92 percent compare to other districts you’ve been at?

They were at 80 or 82 percent.

That 8 cents is for everything: books, gas for the buses, paying the lighting bill, running the food services program. Everything outside of paying a human being comes out of that 8 cents.

Nowhere in America could somebody operate a company like that.

Well, they did, but you saw what happened to the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, that’s the kind of scenario they got themselves in.

The only way we can get that [8 cent] number up is if we get taken over by the state.

Then, over a series of years of renegotiating contracts, eventually getting some sort of compensation from employees on their health and welfare benefits.

That’s just ridiculous.

You’ve got almost 17,000 people and you’re paying 100 percent of all their benefits for them and their spouses and their kids and anybody else, in 2013! That’s ridiculous.

How does that compare to what you’ve seen elsewhere?

Nobody does that anymore!

Nobody can afford it.

I’ve never been in a district where they paid 100 percent.

We’re always told in San Diego that we don’t pay our teachers very much, but we give them good benefits.

Is $92,000 a year not good money?

Well, is it?

Well, I’d be happy with it, but that’s not all teachers, right?

That’s the average teacher!

The average teacher gets $92,000 a year?

Ninety-two thousand a year.

Plus almost about a $20,000-a-year compensation package, that you don’t pay anything for!

That’s $112,000 a year in compensation, that ain’t good enough?

How does that compare to the teachers up in Hayward and elsewhere?

Superior. Because they’ve got to pay for their health and welfare benefits.

Could you solve the district’s structural deficit problem, just with the health care benefits?

You could solve our structural problem with health and welfare benefits, but I would never do it in one swath.

It would have to be something you step into.

How is that going to happen with this board?

That ain’t going to happen.

The only way that’s going to happen is if you build a bunch of relationships and say, “Look, I can do one of two things. If I pay for everybody’s health and welfare benefits, then I’ve got to increase class sizes and I’ve got to lay people off, because that’s the only way I can pay for the benefits.

But you’ve got to really do it.

As far as the teachers union is concerned, it’s always all about the kids. Everything’s always all about the kids.

But if you were to bring this district’s health and welfare package in line with the rest of the state, the rest of the country, kids would get a better education at this district right?

You’d have a lot more money to spend on kids.

And, you’d have a lot more money to spend on training for the teachers to get professional development to better teach those kids. The reason you don’t have that money is because you spend it all on health and welfare benefits.

Our problem’s nothing to do with finance.

We’ve got more problems off the books than on the books.

All this new revenue we were promised from Proposition 30, the way I understand it, just stops us from hemorrhaging more. It keeps us afloat.

It keeps you afloat, but it all depends what you do with it.

That’s why, on (Feb. 12), we’re going to introduce a resolution, trustee Barrera is going to sponsor it, to build our reserves. So when new money comes in, just know, it’s going to be in our reserves.

Now, the union’s going to be against that.

They’ll say that money that’s going to reserves could be used to give us raises or new benefits or whatever, but who cares if you don’t have a place to come to work because you don’t have any reserves?

I’ve got hundreds — hundreds! — of excess employees. Hundreds of excess employees.

Where are they?

Every damn where.

How does that level with the fact that I’ve been told again and again that the board has gone into every corner of this district and found no money, but you’re saying there’s hundreds of employees?

Someone’s wrong.

I’ve been here less than 60 days. All I’m looking at is the data. I don’t know these people yet.

I don’t know who’s at what school, or who’s a power broker.

I’m just looking at the data.

I’ve got hundreds of extra people, laying around. Literally, laying around. Maybe not even benefiting kids.

This is the kind of stuff you have to do to think out of the box.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless

Will Carless is the former head of investigations at Voice of San Diego. He currently lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he is a freelance foreign correspondent and occasional contributor to VOSD. You can reach him at will.carless.work@gmail.com.

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262 comments
Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

Well, it depends on your Ph.D...if it is in "Education" (actually an Ed.D) it is not worth the paper it was printed on. Anyone with an education(sic) degree should not be in the system at all.

Akamai
Akamai

Well, it depends on your Ph.D...if it is in "Education" (actually an Ed.D) it is not worth the paper it was printed on. Anyone with an education(sic) degree should not be in the system at all.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

summergirl describes a baby sitter, not a teacher. If drying tears is what teachers do, we pay way, way too much!

Akamai
Akamai

summergirl describes a baby sitter, not a teacher. If drying tears is what teachers do, we pay way, way too much!

Jennifer Santiago
Jennifer Santiago subscriber

“When you cut back employees and staff you then have to reduce the number of programs you can offer students,” said Dobbs. “Our first goal is to provide services for children. We try to stay as far away from the classroom as possible to protect the entity of the dividing structure.”

Jaded
Jaded

“When you cut back employees and staff you then have to reduce the number of programs you can offer students,” said Dobbs. “Our first goal is to provide services for children. We try to stay as far away from the classroom as possible to protect the entity of the dividing structure.”

Jennifer Santiago
Jennifer Santiago subscriber

Curious about Data Dobbs three year contract for $173,000 plus all inclusive benefits and extra "expense" perks? Go here http://www.sandi.net/page/663 and scroll down to here "CFO Employment Agreement." Wonder if he's a buddy of Terry Grier, sounds just like him to me.

Jaded
Jaded

Curious about Data Dobbs three year contract for $173,000 plus all inclusive benefits and extra "expense" perks? Go here http://www.sandi.net/page/663 and scroll down to here "CFO Employment Agreement." Wonder if he's a buddy of Terry Grier, sounds just like him to me.

Stuart Morse
Stuart Morse subscriber

What bonuses are you referring to? Any documentation?

smorse
smorse

What bonuses are you referring to? Any documentation?

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

National Board Certification? NOPE. I'm still waiting for my promised stipend for that.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

National Board Certification? NOPE. I'm still waiting for my promised stipend for that.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

Yeah. I'd like to see the computer that's going to teach kindergarten.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

Yeah. I'd like to see the computer that's going to teach kindergarten.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

With a loss of pay for those furlough days.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

With a loss of pay for those furlough days.

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

if he can't get basic facts straight, do you think it's possible that he might have misconstrued others in this article?

summergrl
summergrl

if he can't get basic facts straight, do you think it's possible that he might have misconstrued others in this article?

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

I love freedom of speech but it comes with a price. I hope in this case, the price is Dodd's job...I bet he didn't come across like this when he was being interviewed for the job. Who get's a job at a company with a 2 billion dollar budget and thinks he know everything there is to know in 60 days? That's some ego!

summergrl
summergrl

I love freedom of speech but it comes with a price. I hope in this case, the price is Dodd's job...I bet he didn't come across like this when he was being interviewed for the job. Who get's a job at a company with a 2 billion dollar budget and thinks he know everything there is to know in 60 days? That's some ego!

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

if he can't get basic facts straight, why would you take anything else he said in this article at face value?

summergrl
summergrl

if he can't get basic facts straight, why would you take anything else he said in this article at face value?

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

if he can't get basic facts straight, then what are you rooting for - a guy with a big mouth? Anybody can open their mouth and say whatever comes to their minds...doesn't build much confidence in the man when most of what he says, just plain isn't true...maybe he should have kept his mouth shut for 365 days and really got to know the the 2 billion dollar budget a bit better before he made divisive, misleading and false statements. I for one wouldn't take much stock in what he said.

summergrl
summergrl

if he can't get basic facts straight, then what are you rooting for - a guy with a big mouth? Anybody can open their mouth and say whatever comes to their minds...doesn't build much confidence in the man when most of what he says, just plain isn't true...maybe he should have kept his mouth shut for 365 days and really got to know the the 2 billion dollar budget a bit better before he made divisive, misleading and false statements. I for one wouldn't take much stock in what he said.

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

Really? Have they made technology now that can dry a child's tears when he's been bullied or when his best friend doesn't play with him at recess? Or when he's discouraged or confused, can technology look a child in the eyes and reassure him he can do it and to keep trying cuz he's almost got it? Really? Have you been in a classroom like ever or even in the last year? Technology is great and is really useful in education but it will never be smart enough to replace the love, compassion and wisdom a human being brings to education. Education is much more than just teaching lessons - so much more.

summergrl
summergrl

Really? Have they made technology now that can dry a child's tears when he's been bullied or when his best friend doesn't play with him at recess? Or when he's discouraged or confused, can technology look a child in the eyes and reassure him he can do it and to keep trying cuz he's almost got it? Really? Have you been in a classroom like ever or even in the last year? Technology is great and is really useful in education but it will never be smart enough to replace the love, compassion and wisdom a human being brings to education. Education is much more than just teaching lessons - so much more.

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

Thanks for all you do. and for sharing that teaching is not a 6 hour job. You only have students in your class for 6 hours...then you get to spend hours preparing for the next day and grading papers from today and calling parents and running copies and countin orders for the latest fund raiser and getting out the decorations for the upcoming holiday...it never ends. Wish that all the people saying woohoo about Dobbs asinine remarks would spend ONE day in a classroom with a teacher - including the time after the students leave - and see the reality of teaching. If those same people who say that teachers make too much money taught for one day, they would be demanding more pay for themselves...

summergrl
summergrl

Thanks for all you do. and for sharing that teaching is not a 6 hour job. You only have students in your class for 6 hours...then you get to spend hours preparing for the next day and grading papers from today and calling parents and running copies and countin orders for the latest fund raiser and getting out the decorations for the upcoming holiday...it never ends. Wish that all the people saying woohoo about Dobbs asinine remarks would spend ONE day in a classroom with a teacher - including the time after the students leave - and see the reality of teaching. If those same people who say that teachers make too much money taught for one day, they would be demanding more pay for themselves...

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

Look at the pay schedule and see how long it takes to get to that pay scale...many college graduates make that amount or close to it with their STARTING salaries. For teachers to get that high, they not only have to teach for several years, they have to keep earning credits - while they are teaching full time. Try working all day then taking classes at night for several years and tell me if you think it's worth $70K...

summergrl
summergrl

Look at the pay schedule and see how long it takes to get to that pay scale...many college graduates make that amount or close to it with their STARTING salaries. For teachers to get that high, they not only have to teach for several years, they have to keep earning credits - while they are teaching full time. Try working all day then taking classes at night for several years and tell me if you think it's worth $70K...

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

s of children but they don't care about the children when they want to be fairly compensated? Please splain to me? Teachers are supposed to give up their income in order to prove they care about students. So how much do you think a teacher should make to prove to you that they really are about educating kids and providing for their needs? 50K, 40K - less than a construction worker? Less than a waitress? Less than a car salesman? What number would make you think that teachers are not in it for the money?

summergrl
summergrl

s of children but they don't care about the children when they want to be fairly compensated? Please splain to me? Teachers are supposed to give up their income in order to prove they care about students. So how much do you think a teacher should make to prove to you that they really are about educating kids and providing for their needs? 50K, 40K - less than a construction worker? Less than a waitress? Less than a car salesman? What number would make you think that teachers are not in it for the money?

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

if he can't get basic facts straight, then you're right, he'd make a great politician. Start the campaign now so he can mess up the CIty of San Diego instead of the San DIego Unified School District.

summergrl
summergrl

if he can't get basic facts straight, then you're right, he'd make a great politician. Start the campaign now so he can mess up the CIty of San Diego instead of the San DIego Unified School District.

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

if he can't get basic facts straight, you really think he's can handle a 2 billion dollar budget?

summergrl
summergrl

if he can't get basic facts straight, you really think he's can handle a 2 billion dollar budget?

Tressa Renee
Tressa Renee subscriber

e, you should start contacting them about a job because you are going to be looking for a new one soon. Note to Dobb's future employer: make sure Dobbs doesn't do any interviews until he's been with your company at least long enough to get passed the probationary period.

summergrl
summergrl

e, you should start contacting them about a job because you are going to be looking for a new one soon. Note to Dobb's future employer: make sure Dobbs doesn't do any interviews until he's been with your company at least long enough to get passed the probationary period.

29c3825c-6f68-11e2-aab6-0ff6ab6d5323
29c3825c-6f68-11e2-aab6-0ff6ab6d5323

ou have to go to training for a whole day. When you're a teacher, it never stops...just because a teacher is not in the classroom, doesn't mean they're not working. Teaching is a very big responsibility - 36 to 160 children depend on you to educate and support and encourage and guide them every single day. We should be honoring teachers instead of complaining that they get paid too much money. The average teacher makes what a starting engineer or lawyer makes...but because they work in private industry instead of the public sector, everybody complains about the salaries. Think about it when you're sitting at your computer at work reading the Voice of San Diego - do you think the teachers you're complaining about are sitting around leisurely drinking a cup of coffee in their classroom? That's a luxury few teachers get to experience.

Daniel James
Daniel James subscriber

FYI, this is my 5th year, and I've never had a chance to teach summer school.

catcherman2222
catcherman2222

FYI, this is my 5th year, and I've never had a chance to teach summer school.

Michele McCaffery
Michele McCaffery subscriber

Wow, how awesome to see some common sense from this CFO. Of course the teachers should be paying a portion of their health insurance premiums! With pensions, tax breaks, and other perks, a teacher's compensation is already more than even with private sector workers with similar skills and training. Bravo Stanley Dobbs!

michelemc
michelemc

Wow, how awesome to see some common sense from this CFO. Of course the teachers should be paying a portion of their health insurance premiums! With pensions, tax breaks, and other perks, a teacher's compensation is already more than even with private sector workers with similar skills and training. Bravo Stanley Dobbs!

Miryamne Golden
Miryamne Golden subscriber

And my W-2 with a PhD, and longevity does not hit $92,000. Few teachers have the opportunity to teach during summer months, so that is misleading as well. I am fortunate that I am able to supplement my income by instructing at a local university, but I paid plenty for the right to do so. The majority of my colleagues have a master's degree and the majority of us could make far more money in some other position. We choose to teach because we have a passion and because we have a sense of the future that we create by our actions in the present. Do not misunderstand. Every person alive shapes the future in one way or another. Teachers simply try to provide a good foundation for future movers and shakers as well as homemakers and any other calling a person is drawn to. This is our way of giving to society.

Miryamne
Miryamne

And my W-2 with a PhD, and longevity does not hit $92,000. Few teachers have the opportunity to teach during summer months, so that is misleading as well. I am fortunate that I am able to supplement my income by instructing at a local university, but I paid plenty for the right to do so. The majority of my colleagues have a master's degree and the majority of us could make far more money in some other position. We choose to teach because we have a passion and because we have a sense of the future that we create by our actions in the present. Do not misunderstand. Every person alive shapes the future in one way or another. Teachers simply try to provide a good foundation for future movers and shakers as well as homemakers and any other calling a person is drawn to. This is our way of giving to society.