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The teachers union argues that letting San Diego Unified schools decide for themselves what to cut could run afoul of union rules that set mandatory staffing ratios for counselors and nurses.

Two weeks ago, President Bill Freeman called the new budgeting process an “insidious twist” on budget cuts that forced teachers to decide which of their coworkers “to effectively toss out into the street.” (School employees at Juarez Elementary, the school we’re watching go through this process, know precisely what two teachers will lose their jobs if teacher jobs are cut.)

Now, union leaders say the painful process could also violate their union contract, if the district doesn’t make sure that schools know the staffing rules in labor contracts. They plan to send a “cease and desist” letter to the school district about it.

“It’s a nice way of saying, stop what you’re doing or we’re going to take action,” Freeman said today.

In an email to union representatives Friday, Freeman and the union’s executive director wrote that San Diego Unified had implied to schools that the staffing rules for nurses and counselors are flexible, contradicting new union rules that say that San Diego Unified “shall staff” schools with nurses and counselors at specific ratios.

For instance, under the contract, a school with more than 2,367 students is supposed to have a full-time nurse. Freeman said that if a school has enough students to justify getting a nurse or a counselor under the rules, they can’t use that money for anything else.

San Diego Unified says it intends to follow the contract, but schools could still choose to have fewer nurses or counselors than the agreement prescribes, if they go about it the right way.

School district spokesman Bernie Rhinerson said that if school believes it can’t afford all the counselors or nurses that the union agreement says it should have, the school would have to consult the union on its plans. Because schools are still working out their budget plans, that hasn’t happened yet.

The dispute is just one example of the tensions in San Diego Unified between giving schools more control and hewing to district rules. The existing school board has stressed a decentralized system that lets schools come up with their own reforms and decide what works best for themselves.

But labor rules can limit those freedoms. For instance, the school board got into a jam earlier over new rules on hiring principals. Board members wanted schools to choose a principal that fit their unique needs, but an agreement with the school administrators union give current administrators an edge in the job hunt.

Union field organizer Erin Clark said the school district can still empower schools to make decisions, but they need to be aware of the rules. “Our issue is how the district has gone about this,” Clark said. “The timeline has been insanely short. This is another example of the district waiting until the last minute.”

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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