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School district officials say the district’s finances will be made or broken by local labor unions in the next couple of years. Without concessions from the teachers union on pay and benefits, district officials say they will have to lay off more than 1,100 employees next year. With the concessions, district bean counters say they won’t have to lay anyone off.

But the prospect of getting concessions from the teachers union, the most powerful organization in local education, seems slim.

The union has so far said that the district’s projections are make-believe and should be ignored, since nobody yet knows what the state’s education budget will look like this year. That won’t become clear for months, the union says, and there’s no point in talking about concessions until the budget is finalized.

For the last few years, the union points out, the district has projected hundreds of layoffs that have then failed to materialize as the state budget crystallized in Sacramento.

This position reflects an increasingly hard-line stance the union has taken with the district over the last few years. The union no longer meets regularly with district leaders and has cut ties with other unions and even its own retired teachers group. That’s a position former top San Diego Education Association officials say may have become counter-productive.

To explain the union’s stance and the importance the district attaches to possible concessions, NBC 7 San Diego’s Catherine Garcia and I used the analogy of counting beans — coffee beans, to be precise.

Here’s this week’s edition of San Diego Explained:

Note: The interviewed source wearing a blue sweater vest is former SDEA President Don Crawford. Crawford worked at the union for more than a decade and he’s become troubled by the SDEA’s recent stance. He’s also quoted in my story on the teachers union.

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Will Carless is an investigative reporter at currently focused on local education. You can reach him at 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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