There aren’t any budget gimmicks left. This time it’s serious. The district needs concessions or lots and lots of people will be laid off. Come on, unions, let’s at least talk.

That sums up this morning’s press conference at the San Diego Unified School District headquarters, where Superintendent Bill Kowba and school board President John Lee Evans made an impassioned plea to labor unions, particularly the San Diego Education Association, which represents thousands of local educators.

“Let me be perfectly clear,” Kowba said. “This is a new day and a new reality. We cannot turn the clock back to other budget-balancing strategies of yesteryear.”

“We have downsized, right-sized, automated, consolidated, and whatever else you want to suggest, to mitigate the loss of revenue,” he added.

Evans added more detail to the district’s projected budget scenario: The school board only has two paths at this point, he said: Get concessions from the unions, or make savings by laying more than 1,100 people off. He said the district has invited all the labor unions to have professionals pore through the district’s budget for any other possible alternatives. That invitation hasn’t been taken up, he said.

The teachers union has held a couple of press conferences to heap scorn on the district’s numbers. Their point is simple: Nobody knows how much money the district will have to work with until the state passes its budget in the summer. The union says there’s no point in discussing concessions until that point and says the district should hold off on issuing layoff notices until the summer too.

As I outlined in this post, there are some good reasons why the district can’t do that. Chief among them is that ignoring the state’s arcane budgetary process would result in the district being unable to borrow the money it needs to pay its bills. That would mean teachers wouldn’t get paid.

The district and the unions have two weeks to come to an agreement to avoid the issuance of those more than 1,100 pink slips to employees. That’s because the district has to meet a March 15 deadline to issue layoff notices if it wants the freedom to lay off employees the following year.

To make his point, Evans held up a telephone and read out the superintendent’s telephone number to the assorted television cameras and reporters.

“Just agree to sit down and talk,” he said. “We will meet anywhere, any time.”

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

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