Faced with a looming legal deadline to warn teachers and other employees of layoffs, the San Diego Unified school board agreed Tuesday to ask its staff to open talks with labor unions to try to find more savings.

“We need our partners to work with us and find solutions because every one of us in this room wants to save teachers, nurses, counselors, the arts and the only way we can do that now is to look at different solutions,” said school board member Scott Barnett.

But it is unclear how that would work, since the district wrapped up negotiations with its unions last year. The teachers union has already agreed to furloughs that lessen their pay and shorten the school year, along with changes in health benefits. Its work agreement with San Diego Unified is now closed, which means the union and the district don’t have to go to the bargaining table if they don’t want to.

The same goes for other labor groups. It is a puzzling move since San Diego Unified is under the gun to find savings right now; bargaining tends to take a lot of time and ramp up tensions with employees. In short, it is both logistically and politically hairy for the school district to try to negotiate right now.

I tried to get more details from the school board after the meeting. I wanted to know whether “opening discussions” could mean something less or something different than negotiating over labor agreements.

But Barnett and other school board members were skittish about explaining much more about why they were asking to open discussions and what it meant, since they agreed to make the move in closed session. I’ll update the blog if I find out anything more.

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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