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Poway Unified is not the first or only school district in San Diego County to slash employee salaries to cope with budget woes this year. Alpine Union School District is cutting pay for all school employees — from the superintendent to teachers to bus drivers and custodians — by 2 percent for the next two years.

Superintendent Greg Ryan estimates that the cut will save the schools $250,000 annually. That is big money for a tiny school district with roughly 2,000 students and a deficit of about $1 million. (San Diego Unified, the biggest district in the county, is faced with cutting $147 million.)

The pay cut will mean that Alpine schools are now weighing whether to lay off five or six teachers instead of 16 of them. Ryan is unsure how much they will receive in stimulus money. He said that hashing out the deal with unions took five or six days of meetings. Compare that, again, to San Diego Unified, where the teachers union contract has been expired for more than nine months with no new agreement in sight.

Ryan said the pay cuts went over with staff because they know each other. “We are a small school district and the employees all know each other. It wasn’t a stranger they had never met who was going to lose their job” if the deal failed, Ryan said.

I’m not saying this is a good decision or a bad one. No employee wants to lose money when the economy is already bad — and lowering pay could put Alpine at a disadvantage against other nearby school districts when competing to attract teachers.

But for good or for ill, the negotiations that happened in Alpine and Poway provide a striking contrast with the distrust and rancor between San Diego Unified and its teachers union, which argues that it will not stomach layoffs nor other employee cuts until the massive school district makes much, much deeper cuts to its central offices and administration.

EMILY ALPERT

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