On Jan. 25, San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba issued a deadline to local education unions: The district needed the unions to make significant concessions on their pay and benefits, and it needed to know what those concessions might be by Feb. 15.

But, almost a week after Kowba’s letter, the district has not yet sent the unions a formal proposal setting out its terms. The unions have a deadline, but haven’t been able to present the district’s proposal to their members because there isn’t one yet.

“I’ve been told it’s forthcoming,” said Juan Romo, president of the Administrators Association of San Diego, which represents local school principals.

The district is facing a deficit of as much as $124 million next year if a tax measure floated by Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t pass. So far, the district’s only real plan to deal with a deficit of that size is to negotiate concessions from labor unions, or lay off hundreds of staff.

In a preliminary, unofficial proposal to unions, Kowba laid out what such concessions might look like. In order to avoid laying off staff, the district would need employees to continue taking five unpaid days off next year, forgo salary raises they negotiated in 2010 and possibly take further cuts to their pay and benefits, the district’s proposal states.

But that document isn’t something the unions can present to their members for consideration because it’s not an official bargaining proposal.

Here’s a snippet from an email I received earlier today from the principals union’s chief negotiator, Robin Whitlow:

The absence of a proposal from the District and the short deadline imposed by the District’s communication demonstrates the SDUSD Board of Education’s resistance to act in a timely and responsible fashion to the budgetary facts provided by the state of California and their continued disregard and disrespect for the employees of SDUSD. Not to mention this would also be considered as “Bad Faith Bargaining.”

San Diego Unified Chief of Staff Bernie Rhinerson said Kowba’s letter to unions was meant to test the waters and see if the unions are even willing to negotiate.

The school board has been calling on the unions to renegotiate their contract since at least last summer. Last June, the board passed a motion asking employees to continue their unpaid days off and renegotiate their healthcare plans. The teachers union refused to come to the table.

Rhinerson said he didn’t know what the latest response from the unions was, but said the board discussed the issue in a closed session meeting today.

“They’ll be getting a proposal soon,” Rhinerson said. “I can’t speculate when that will be sent out.”

Rhinerson said the Feb. 15 deadline was meant to speed up the negotiations process. He said the school district acknowledges that discussions over possible concessions could continue for months.

“The board isn’t saying they’re not going to talk to anyone after Feb. 15,” he said.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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

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