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The San Diego Education Association, the union that represents local teachers, has voted to start “limited negotiations” with the San Diego Unified School District over possible concessions on salaries in order to save teachers from layoffs.

With the district facing an estimated $120 million budget shortfall next year, the school board has been calling on the union to meet and discuss possible concessions in order to avoid crippling layoffs. Last week, one in every five teachers in the district received final layoff notices.

An SDEA press release issued today, quoted teachers union president Bill Freeman:

“With a clearer picture of San Diego Unified School District’s budget, the elected San Diego Education Association board voted last night to authorize limited negotiations with the District in an effort to stop layoffs, defend classrooms and protect our profession.”

“The elected leaders of SDEA believe this is the right way to proceed based on a recent analysis of the District’s budget conducted by a team of SDEA members and California Teachers Association budget analysts. Unlike past years, the economic challenges facing the District and the state have not improved.”

The move marks a significant change in tone for the union.

For months, the SDEA has been saying that the district’s budget problems shouldn’t be fixed on the back of teachers. The union has argued that the district is not being honest about its budget deficit, and has said it would not negotiate until the state finalizes its budget in the summer.

But with the layoff notices going out, the pressure has steadily ramped up on the union. Last month, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, the region’s most powerful labor organization, called on the union to sit down with the district. That call was echoed in an editorial this week by San Diego City Beat, the left-leaning weekly magazine.

The union signaled last week that it was both surveying members on the issue and asking financial experts from the union’s state affiliate to pore through the district’s budget to see if the dire deficit predictions are legitimate.

In a letter to SDEA members, Freeman was clear that the scope of the negotiations will be limited. He wrote:

The fact is that we can bargain over limited issues without jeopardizing important contractual provisions such as our healthcare. That is because we will only enter into discussions with the District after they agree to clear ground rules that limit the scope of our discussions, protect provisions such as family health care and ensure that if we do not reach an acceptable agreement everything will revert back to the current status.

The letter was signed by the members of the SDEA board.

Union vice president Camille Zombro, who has been leading the charge against concessions via a blog called The Breakfast Club, did not sign the letter.

If I hear anything coming out of these negotiations, I’ll post an update.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego 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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