For the last few years, the San Diego Unified School District has announced that it will have to lay hundreds of teachers off. But each year, the total number of teachers actually laid off has ended up just a slice of that worst-case-scenario.

This pattern happens because every January, the district has to project how it will balance its budget the following year. In lean times, it does that by projecting how many people it will have to lay off.

But, in January, the district doesn’t know how much money it will have to work with the following year. It doesn’t know that until the state comes out with its budget in the summer. A lot often changes in the few months between the district making its projections and the state’s final budget. The result: The district’s projections end up way off, as hundreds of layoff notices are cancelled.

The teachers union derides this pattern as “crying wolf” and says it brings about unnecessary distress at schools. Recently, the union called on the district to stop playing the budget game. In response, the district says it’s mandated by law to project and account for the worst possible situation for its budget, and said it’s happy to work to change a union-supported law that requires it to issue layoff notices before March 15 each year.

Just to keep things in perspective, I recently filmed a short video with the help of our news partners NBC 7 San Diego.

While we were filming this segment of San Diego Explained, I took a few minutes to illustrate, with the help of a delicious pizza, how the district’s layoff projections were sliced up last year.

A quick note: This video’s intended for visual purposes, not to make light of the layoff issue. As the husband of a teacher, I know first-hand how trying it can be for a teacher to not be guaranteed a job the following year. Layoff notices are no joke, and that’s why we’re paying them so much attention.

Here’s the video:

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Will Carless is an investigative reporter at You can reach him at or 619.550.5670.

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

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