The catchphrase from the Laurel and Hardy movies comes to mind as I read about San Diego Unified’s continuing financial problems – “Well, that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
School boards across the state made difficult and unpopular decisions in response to the state’s yawning budget chasm, increasing class sizes and issuing notices of potential layoffs to teachers as Sacramento slashed school funding. Not San Diego Unified, though. The board majority declared teaching positions off-limits and trimmed around the edges of their budget, only to find that wasn’t even close to solving their problem.
That’s a bit like a homeowner who finds himself upside down in an adjustable mortgage and thinks he can flip off a few lights and take shorter showers to make up the difference. Can you say “foreclosure?”
Delaying cuts to labor costs, including teachers, is beyond foolish at this point. No one thinks the state’s budget gap will get better; it’s only a question of how much worse it will be next year. Public education has suffered three straight years of cuts and next year doesn’t promise to be any different.
By its nature, education’s biggest cost by far is labor. School systems don’t purchase raw materials for manufacturing, don’t spend money on advertising, and certainly don’t own corporate jets for their top brass. They employ lots of people, and when big savings are needed, that’s where they’re found. No teachers’ union will accept cuts without a fight, but they want to preserve jobs, not the district’s solvency.
Responsible school boards have a duty to balance their budgets. It’s time for ALL of the board members of San Diego Unified to step up to that responsibility and make decisions now, just as their colleagues around the state have done.
Kelli Moors is a member of the governing board of Carlsbad Unified School District.