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Things are getting a little confusing at the San Diego Education Association.

Yesterday afternoon, the SDEA issued a press release stating its support for emergency legislation to extend, by two months, the March 15 deadline for issuing layoff notices to teachers. The move is “an important quick fix” to the current system, the release stated.

At noon today, SDEA President Bill Freeman put a big, entirely new, caveat on that support: The union will only support the legislation if San Diego Unified School District agrees to issue no layoff notices whatsoever.

That was news to the office of Assemblyman Marty Block, which is scrambling to write the legislation after being urged to do so in recent days by Freeman himself.

“Whaaaaat?” said Margaret Peña, director of Block’s capitol office. “That’s a new wrinkle.”

Freeman called Block personally and pledged the union’s support for the legislation, Peña said.

“He said, ‘What can we do to help?’ ‘We want to support this,’ that sort of thing,” she said.

The school district almost certainly won’t agree to not issuing any layoff notices.

“We can’t agree to that because we have a $120 million deficit,” said Bernie Rhinerson, district chief of staff. “We have to provide a balanced budget”

The SDEA’s stance is all the more confusing because if the district were to agree to not issue any layoff notices, there would be no need for the emergency legislation to change the layoff deadline. The legislation would be pointless.

The whole effort towards changing the layoff deadline started a week ago. The SDEA held a press conference lambasting the district’s budget numbers and calling on it to refuse to participate in “a broken budget system,” that requires it to issue hundreds of layoff notices to teachers that are later rescinded.

The district countered the next day, saying it agreed that the March 15 deadline is confusing and counter-productive. The district doesn’t like having to issue all those layoff notices months before it knows what the state budget will look like, school board President John Lee Evans said, and it would gladly support legislation to change the March 15 deadline.

There was silence from the union for a few days until yesterday’s press release. The apparent support for the legislation was greeted warmly by district officials, who hailed it as a breakthrough in union-district relations.

Today’s twist not only adds uncertainty to the legislation, it also puts serious doubt on the notion that the union and district are becoming cooperative after years of frosty relations.

At today’s rainy press conference, I tried to ask Freeman to clarify the union’s stance. Why did he call Block and ask him to write the legislation if the SDEA doesn’t actually support it? I asked.

My question was met with a blank stare.

“Next question,” 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.

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Will Carless

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

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