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The San Diego Unified School District hasn’t wasted any time taking up the teachers union’s offer to work on changing the state’s budget system.

The union made the call to the district at a press conference Wednesday. Union officials said the state’s budget process harms schools and teachers, since it requires districts to issue hundreds of layoff notices to employees by March 15, months before they know what the state’s budget will actually look like.

That system causes unnecessary emotional pain and suffering to teachers, union officials said. The district should use its clout to start changing it, said San Diego Education Association Vice President Camille Zombro.

“Great things happen when committed people decide they’re going to do it,” she said. “Absolutely, we could change things. Absolutely we could change the law.”

In response, Superintendent Bill Kowba and School Board President John Lee Evans sent a letter today to San Diego Education Association President Bill Freeman. The letter thanks Freeman for reaching out to the district and suggests a way forward:

[W]e can work together, as you suggest, to change the state law so that the preliminary layoff notification deadline is moved from March 15 to June 15, and the final layoff notification deadline is moved from May 15 to August 15.

The interesting thing here is that the March 15 deadline has been largely supported by teachers unions in the past. An attempt to change the law in 2009 was opposed by the California Teachers Association, of which the SDEA is a local chapter.

The law, which was enacted 80 years ago, was supposed to give teachers a few months’ warning to plan ahead for possibly being laid off. But in recent years, the March 15 rule has served to torment teachers, since hundreds of employees have gotten pink slips, but only a small portion of those have actually ended up getting laid off once the state’s budget was finalized.

The teachers union essentially has two options here.

It can turn down the district’s offer and leave the March 15 deadline in place. That means teachers would continue to have a “buffer zone” between getting layoff notices and actually getting laid off. That would kill any momentum that could come from a joint effort by the district and union to reform the state’s budget system.

Or, it can press ahead arm-in-arm with the district and help campaign to change the rule it has said causes so much stress to teachers.

There’s been no response from the SDEA on this yet.

Of course, San Diego Unified and the SDEA are just one school district and one union in a large state. They would have to build broad consensus to get the state law changed. But Evans said he’s confident the district can do that.

“We’re the second-biggest school district in the state. We would have to get other large districts on board, but is the first step in doing that,” he said.

Evans also drafted a letter to state legislators that would be signed by Freeman and Evans. The letter urges legislators to enact emergency legislation that would amend the state’s Education Code to change the layoff deadline.

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.

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Will Carless

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

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