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Budget guru Phil Stover, interim chief special projects officer in San Diego Unified is answering your questions about school budget cuts today on our blog. Confused by the cuts or the budget crisis? Have bigger questions about how the budget works? Ask Stover your questions by e-mail at pstover@sandi.net or post them here. We’ll be putting up your questions and answers throughout the day. Where necessary, I’ve included some added explanation of my own in italics to help smooth out any eduspeak. Enjoy! — EMILY ALPERT

QUESTION from parent KELLY DONIVAN: Why can’t public schools use zero balance budgeting?

Also, what justifies administrator salaries? Why are principals being paid over $100,000 base salaries? These people aren’t curing cancer here.

Thanks for being willing to answer questions to those of us taxpayers who foot the bill for schools that we don’t use.

ANSWERS from PHIL STOVER: Public schools cannot effectively use zero based budgeting because it is impossible for us to ever get to zero. We operate under many state, federal and county mandates. We also have minimal operational and central office functions (maintenance, payroll, etc) that we cannot do without.

What we can do, and what we did this year, is identify the minimal functions necessary to meet the mandates and operational requirements and go from there. We can certainly consolidate and reduce, especially in those areas not directly serving students.

We still have to provide a minimal level of service to the adults who teach, clean, counsel, feed, etc. We have eliminated many contracts, hourly services and other non-personnel expenses. We have eliminated most of our vacancies, travel and have frozen spending across the district, even to some degree at the schools. We tried to get as close as we could to zero given our realities.

Salaries: SDUSD’s average teacher salary, without benefits is $64,318. The average teacher’s salary in the state is $66,995. We rank 33rd out of 43 districts in the county related to teachers’ salaries.

Unfortunately I know of no comparable metrics for principals’ salaries. Principals are paid according to a salary scale that is negotiated with AASD (the administrators association). Approximately half of the scale for those who work 209 days is less than $100,000; all of the scale for those who work 218 days is over $100,000, topping out at $123,000.

When you factor in that they are responsible for many students and staff and budgets in excess of several million to over $10 million dollars, perhaps their pay is not excessive. I do not know if you can correlate principals’ salaries in any direct way to teachers’ salaries. If so, we probably are in the mid-range of our surrounding districts. You are right, they don’t cure cancer, but they sure do work hard … long hours (no overtime) trying to solve a myriad of challenging issues; both organizational and in the lives of their students and staff. I will let Emily know if I find metrics specifically related to principal salaries.

— PHIL STOVER

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