We were dismayed this summer that teachers had to agree to a historically bizarre deal to cancel the layoff of nearly 1,500 teachers by taking back pay raises that should have never been issued in the first place. All the teachers would have wanted is for the San Diego Unified School District board and staff to have negotiated in good faith in 2010 in the first place.

Had the district board been forthright with the teachers, there would have been one less problem looking for a solution this summer. The board ignored that for the past four years there have been no positive economic indicators for the district to fiscally justify the pay raises the teachers eventually had to give up. The board should not blame Sacramento and should accept their responsibility for putting on the blindfolds and avoiding seeing, and pointing out, the realities.

It was the board, not the teachers, that made it hard to sit down and negotiate in good faith, by not being straight up with them. It does not take psychology to know that this district’s teachers have good cause to mistrust, but it does take disingenuous politics to pass the buck by blaming other districts across the state for the mistrust fostered in this district. This year was no different than the previous two years.

This district is entering its third year of Program Improvement — the status given to districts and schools where students fail to meet achievement goals set by the No Child Left Behind law. We cannot afford to hope for change in some future ballot measures, which may not come to pass. We must always mind our reason for being and keep our focus on the here and now.

When the tremendous cuts in administration and other expenses in the past few years were being considered, the board of trustees and their executives and fiscal experts must have seen some indication of this summer’s fiscal crisis. The district’s organization begins with the board of trustees, then respectively by the superintendent, chief of staff, deputy superintendents, area superintendents, program and operational managers, assistant managers, supervisors, principals and vice principals and ends in the classroom with the teachers — five to ten layers down.

The current board has had four years to really focus on what is important: first, the students; second, the teachers; and third, keeping them together in the classroom for enough time to make the program improvement parents want for their children and the law requires. The problem has been one of lack of foresight, failed policies, poor planning, ill-structured organization, mismanagement of funds, non-existent leadership — the list goes on ad-nauseum.

This is no new deal — this is a regression to 2010. For the teachers, it is also a repression imposed on them in the form of furloughs. An effective board of trustees would have spelled out in 2010 for all sides exactly what will happen if there are cuts in funding. An efficient manager would have conditioned the negotiations on the state of the economy, just like other government, business and household entities. Good budgeting relies on good fiscal projections, not guessing or hoping for a better tomorrow. Purchasing properties on the high and selling on the low is not fiscally responsible. Crafting and pushing a bond that pays nearly eight times the receipts in interest is definitely not only fiscally irresponsible; it is an outright transgression.

The teachers get the mission — that being our children’s education. So, they do what it takes. Indeed, all students, parents and the entire community owe them a debt of gratitude. In fact, each and every member of the board and each executive in the district owe them a historic apology. That the board members, superintendent, deputy superintendents, area superintendents, chief of staff, department managers, assistant managers, supervisors, principals and vice principals will share in the sacrifice is no solace — it was the board and the executives who brought the district to near collapse and forced the concessions. The board should show the teachers respect and post average salaries of teachers compared to average salaries of the executives — then speak of sacrifice.

It is astonishing that one would even dare say that taking back pay raises that were negotiated in good faith by the teachers and imposing furloughs of up to four weeks. Shortchanging the kids in San Diego by shortening the school year by up to a month is inexcusable.

Prior to his appointment as superintendent, the current superintendent was chief financial officer; and, there is a current chief financial officer. With such powerhouse executives it is not convincing that the books are difficult to balance, and all the crises should have been anticipated and dealt with as they occurred. The decisions that put the district in crisis mode were at the policy level, not the bookkeeping level. Either the board hired a bunch of incompetents, or the board deliberately ignored their own experts’ advice. The current members of this board will not be seated as trustees when the payment on the 2008 bond comes due, and a huge crisis will be at hand for our children and grandchildren — but right now the books are balanced. Tell us something more convincing and reassuring, we desperately need to be convinced — lest we all are naysayers.

Mark Powell lives in University City and a candidate for the San Diego Unified school board.

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