We got a lot of feedback from the story we published last week about the San Diego Unified School District school board’s decision to rehire more than 300 teachers after the state offered to give schools more money if its rosy revenue projections pan out.

The vote to rescind the layoffs was 4-1, with only trustee Scott Barnett dissenting.

The key question we were asked by readers: Why’d they do it?

The decision to hire back the teachers was essentially a gamble that the state’s optimistic revenue projections would pan out. They haven’t, and the district’s already committed to spending the money on the teachers now and can’t lay them off. Its gamble is looking less and less likely to pay off.

With the district now flirting with insolvency, San Diegans want to know why the school board put the district’s financial health on the line.

Here’s commenter Glenn Boogren:

It would be nice to see/hear what the 4 yes votes have to say now about their decisions. Blaming it on the state rather than taking ownership of their actions is unacceptable. Why did they hire the CFO, negotiate a competitve compensation package, (with a recent raise), & then ignore his advice?

So, I asked them. Last week, I called and emailed all five of the school board members and asked them for their reasoning for their vote. I heard back from four of them, talked briefly to Kevin Beiser, who excused himself (with good reason, see below).

Here’s what the board had to say:

RICHARD BARRERA

Fundamentally, what that’s about is the destruction that we would do to our youngest kids and to our schools that have been doing an amazing job working with our youngest kids, if we had increased class sizes to 30 kids in a K-3 class.

That’s just an absolutely unacceptable situation, for two reasons:

One, the impact it would have on the students throughout the district, in particular on the students in the highest poverty schools, and, two, the impact it would have on the success of stable teams of teachers that have been working so successfully in so many of those schools.


SCOTT BARNETT

I voted against spending $30 million to recall teachers laid-off this past spring. Why? On March 10, 2011 I voted against layoff notices to teachers. State law required us to vote by March 15. I urged my colleagues to lay off $30-$40 million in non-teaching positions instead.

It was clear then and more clear now that with state cuts and increased employee costs (raises) we could not afford to keep teachers AND not make proportionate cuts in non-teaching positions. In Late June and in August when the board voted to restore $30 million in teaching positions, I once again urged my colleagues to make other cuts if we were going to restore teachers.

But the majority of my colleagues decided we could restore teachers and not make other cuts. Now we are facing the threat of fiscal insolvency. Let’s hope the State finds ways to send us more dollars.


KEVIN BEISER

Mr. Beiser was contacted by telephone. He informed us that his mother is severely ill and said he was visiting her in hospital.


JOHN LEE EVANS

Up until the time of the adoption of the district budget at the end of June I voted to wait on recalling teachers. I felt that we needed to have a clear idea of what we had from the state before we committed to paying more teachers. When it was later revealed that the state would cut roughly $30M less, I approved spending only part of that money.

The state gave a mixed message about that money: 1) To balance the budget and 2) To rehire teachers for the full year. I chose the middle road: 1) To spend only a portion of the money and 2) To use the other portion to recall approximately 225 teachers to maintain class size in kindergarten, second and third grades. (The board had previously allocated redevelopment money for first grade).

This vote resulted in a net expense using only about half of the money, because some of the costs were offset by the class size reduction formula. This allowed us to fulfill our two obligations: 1) To protect the financial health of the district and 2) To provide a reasonable class size to our youngest students.

Our kindergarteners are only there one year and it was well worth it. Unfortunately, we have legislators who claim that they “protected education.” Our students and our staff would not agree. While calling back some of the teachers, it is very important to remember that we still started this school year with about 1,000 fewer employees. Next year we will close schools, ask employees for concessions, sell property and cut programs and it will still not cut as much as the state wants us to cut. Is this what we want for our schools?


SHELIA JACKSON

For me, it was to have stabilized schools in my particular district. Because we tend to have a higher number of teachers that are newly hired, when they do layoffs, it causes a lot of transitions at the school sites.

Some of the schools actually had as high as 30 percent of their staff transitioning because of layoffs, so I was hoping, and we have in some cases been able to, get staff back that we had spent time and energy and money training and that want to be at that particular school site.


Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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