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The teachers union is still talking over the idea of slashing salaries as much as 8 percent to help San Diego Unified balance its budget. Unsurprisingly, the idea isn’t popular: Frank Lucero, a teacher, sent out an e-mail to other teachers that criticized the union for even airing the idea, saying, “What exactly is fair about reducing the salaries of the lowest-paid teachers in the county??”

The union, for its part, has said the idea isn’t acceptable but that members are exploring “the possibility of giving a little to get a lot back — with strong contractual guarantees.”

And it isn’t just teachers who are worried about this. Principals’ salaries rise and fall with those of teachers, so they and other educators would take the hit, too.

Teachers are especially riled about this idea because the average teacher salary in the school district last year was $64,318 — lower than many nearby districts like Sweetwater ($72,682), San Dieguito ($75,272) and La Mesa-Spring Valley ($72,019), according to an analysis by the Sacramento Bee. The California average is $66,995.

There’s another factor to look at, though, when it comes to salaries and spending. While teacher salaries are low, San Diego Unified has historically been more heavily staffed with teachers than other school districts. I ran the numbers for last year: There were roughly 18 students per San Diego Unified teacher, compared to roughly 23 students per teacher in the Sweetwater or San Dieguito school districts.

That low student-to-teacher ratio may make you scratch your head, especially when you see class sizes in many schools. But “teachers” also includes people who are teachers but not necessarily tasked with their own classroom, like the resource teachers who help struggling teachers. Those same jobs may be performed by workers who aren’t teachers in other school districts, which complicates any comparison.

Does that pattern of keeping more teachers — but at lower pay — hold for this year? I’m getting some numbers to check. The teachers union is expected to respond to the pay proposal this week.

— EMILY ALPERT

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