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I was very proud this summer to announce a historic deal that cancelled the layoff of nearly 1,500 teachers. Last week I was pleased that we came to a tentative agreement with the principals for the same set of concessions.
All I had wanted throughout the past several months was for the San Diego Unified School District staff and the San Diego Education Association leaders and the administrators’ leaders to sit down to work together on a solution.
When we realized that Sacramento was not going to give us the funding to keep our schools operating on the same level, I knew that the only solution was for both sides to sit down and talk. Of course, that’s easier said than done. It took us several months to get there.
When we finally met it became clear that the district and the teachers had many of the same goals for quality education. As a psychologist, I knew that years of mistrust would not be easily whisked away. In past years, districts across the state issued layoff notices in March, only to “find” more money by the end of the year.
This year we knew that it was different. Any potential budget change would not happen until after the November ballot measures. That was too late for next school year. We had to find a local solution to avert much larger class sizes, to maintain our music and arts programs, and to keep our varied course offerings at the high school level. We also knew that our schools would suffer if we did not have an adequate number of counselors and nurses to meet our students’ needs.
We had already made tremendous cuts in administration and other expenses in the past few years to protect the classroom. We had cut millions from transportation and other non-academic areas. We did this, because we wanted to preserve the academic progress our district has been making every year. But the budget this year forced us to look at the classroom.
It came down to a math problem. The only way that we could keep our teaching staff and balance our budget was if the teachers agreed to concessions, including deferring their raises and the continuation of furlough days. This was not easy. The employees had saved the district nearly $40 million over the past two years with previous concessions. They were being asked to share in the sacrifice again. A strong majority of teachers agreed to do that.
The new deals clearly spell out for all sides exactly what will happen if there are further cuts and what will happen if funding is restored. There was no guessing or risk involved in the deal. Any drop in enrollment can be handled with attrition, not layoffs. We had to make a fiscally responsible deal that our financial overseers would accept and that our teachers could also accept. I believe that we will maintain a high credit rating, which will allow us to spend more in the classroom and less on interest costs.
Most teachers were not at risk of losing their jobs this year and they were protected by a closed contract. Nevertheless, they stepped up to the plate and made the sacrifice. For that sacrifice all students, parents and the entire community owe them a debt of gratitude.
The superintendent, Board of Education, area superintendents and all of the executive staff are making the same sacrifice. I am confident that the principals will vote to share in the sacrifice at the same level.
There are plenty of naysayers on both sides who say the deal went too far or did not go far enough. I take this as evidence that we struck a reasonable deal. The real winners are the kids in San Diego.
As president of the Board of Education, it is my duty to lead the board to meet our educational mission and balance the books at the same time. This is a difficult balancing act, which many believed we could not achieve. The public can rest assured that we have accomplished that. We will start off the 2012-13 school year ready to focus on academic success.
The lesson of this summer is that we can find practical solutions at a local level when we work together. Now teachers, parents and district staff will unite to fight for our public schools being properly funded by the state. In the meantime, take a moment to thank a teacher for his/her service and sacrifice.
John Lee Evans is the president of the San Diego Unified Board of Education.
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