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More school funding in the state budget will allow San Diego Unified to keep class sizes for its youngest students from ballooning this fall, Superintendent Bill Kowba announced this morning.
But even as the school district cancels cuts and saves about 300 teacher jobs now, it is still bracing for more than $70 million in cuts for the year after that. Teachers may only be safe for a year.
After months of agonizing over cuts, San Diego Unified adopted a budget last week that slashed more than $114 million in spending, inflating class sizes, thinning bus routes, suspending beloved programs and more. Roughly 1,400 workers were slated to lose their jobs, about 10 percent of its total workforce. Roughly 800 of those were teachers.
But all that was before state lawmakers agreed to a budget that gave schools more money than they had been expecting, banking on optimistic revenue projections. School districts have to polish off their budgets by the end of June, even if the state hasn’t figured out its final plans. So San Diego Unified drew up a budget and is redrawing it just a week later.
San Diego Unified spent the last week analyzing the state budget and found another $36 million in revenue. However, almost half of the money will be delayed. There are also new costs for schools in the state budget that it hadn’t budgeted for. So it is only spending $22 million to save jobs.
That will pay for about 300 more teaching jobs. Some of those may be snapped up by teachers who were displaced from other schools by shrinking enrollment, so the actual number of teachers who are saved from layoffs could be less than 300.
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The school district has put a clear priority on small classes for its smallest students: Class sizes will stay at 24-to-1 next year in grades K-3, the same size they were last year, instead of bloating to more than 29 students per teacher. The school district will keep class sizes even smaller in a select group of disadvantaged schools that have been testing the impact of tiny classes, giving them classes of 20-to-1.
“It will give our children the valuable one-on-one time that they need with their teachers when they are struggling,” school board member Kevin Beiser said at a press conference this morning.
Kowba said the goal was to return teachers to the same campuses they had taught at before, when possible. But because jettisoned teachers are called back to work based on their years in the school district, schools could still end up with different teachers than the ones they lost, destabilizing schools that have built strong relationships or invested in special training for their staff.
The plan does not spare any other workers.
Labor leaders for bus drivers, school secretaries and other workers who don’t teach were upset, saying they had been left out. Kowba said they were still analyzing the budget for more savings to see if other workers could be saved.
The school board had already pledged that if it got more money than it had counted on in the state budget, it would clamp down on class sizes and spare at least some of the teachers who were laid off, even if they can only save them for a year. (It faces another round of budget cuts this coming year.)
That decision split the school board. Board members Scott Barnett and John Lee Evans have warned that the school district still faces more cuts next year, which has made them leery of canceling cuts now.
But school board President Richard Barrera and Beiser countered that state budgets are so wildly unpredictable that it makes no sense to hold back on sparing jobs and smaller classes now to avert predicted pain. Board member Shelia Jackson voted with them on the plan.
State lawmakers backed up Barrera when they crafted the budget, prodding districts to keep staffing near the same levels as last year. Evans later urged school district staff to hurry up and restore jobs.
If San Diego Unified had held on to the money instead of saving jobs, it could have lessened the predicted cuts for the next school year. The legislation said schools should try to staff at similar levels to last year, but it also said that they could take steps to stay solvent, which has led to a lot of grappling over how to interpret the state’s move. Teachers union organizer Erin Clark questioned whether the rehiring even went far enough.
The state budget has one big catch: If revenues fall short of what the state had projected, that triggers a new round of cuts in the middle of the school year.
But to nudge school districts to rehire workers, the budget tells school districts not to consider those possible cuts as they craft their budgets. If those cuts are triggered, Kowba said, teachers would stay put. They would have to find savings somewhere else.