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The new CFO of San Diego’s largest school district, Stan Dobbs, certainly has found a way to become a household name among the district’s employees and engaged parents.
His explosive interview with our Will Carless provoked a discussion about the district’s financial management, its teachers and most prominently, his own credibility.
But when Dobbs’ boss, Superintendent Bill Kowba rebuked his statements, he left a few points unchallenged.
And that’s almost as interesting as the misstatements.
First, our Fact Check team has put together a comprehensive explanation of what appears to be Dobbs’ most egregious error: His claim that teachers make an average $92,000 and a lot more when considering their benefits.
Kowba, in correcting him, pointed out that the $92,000 figure includes benefits.
This is an awful mistake and Dobbs, the chief financial officer, is the absolute last person who should have made it.
In his long statement Monday morning, Kowba also said that the district was seeking out grants, contrary to Dobbs’ statement that they weren’t. On and on, Kowba meticulously challenged and corrected everything Dobbs said that was inaccurate or questionable.
But let’s look at five points Kowba didn’t refute. It appears Kowba has Dobbs’ back on some controversial pronouncements:
1. The District Is in Financial Peril
Not long ago, Kowba got my attention with a rather startling quote about why the school district desperately needed to sell a piece of land to pay its bills.
“We need to stay the course to go forward. The timing of the budget adoptions, the size of our budget deficit, the pressures to do some difficult things in difficult times requires that this sale go forward,” he said.
That’s not a comfortable financial position.
Kowba explained more in his memo:
After five successive years of funding reductions from the state, the district still faces a structural deficit of $84 million for the next budget year.
A structural deficit, of course, is a situation in which the agency is not set up to take in as much money as it is set up to spend.
2. Changes to Health Care Could Fix It
In his controversial interview, Dobbs said this:
You could solve our structural problem with health and welfare benefits, but I would never do it in one swath.
Kowba did not challenge this point. We’ve looked into this before. The district long ago gave its employees benefits instead of raises. Teachers get full health care. But they also get many choices in health care plans.
At the end of 2011, a proposal was pushed that would give employees up to $900 if they chose one of the less expensive plans.
Last year, Trustee Scott Barnett opposed the new deal with the teachers union and pushed a plan to save more money by limiting and renegotiating the choices teachers had for health care.
He got nowhere. Kowba did not deny or refute his CFO’s statement, however, that addressing this would be effective or that no other districts offer to pick up 100 percent of the health care of employees and their dependents.
3. District Needs to Cut 300-400 Teachers; Class Sizes Will Go Up
Perhaps the second-worst thing Dobbs said in his interview was that the district had hundreds of excess employees. He said they were laying down. Then he doubled down — “literally laying down.”
He’s being pilloried, and rightly so, for his use and emphasis of the word “literally.”
But Kowba hardly refuted the claim about excess staff. He wrote this (emphasis is his):
I can only surmise that Stan was referring to our stated need to reduce staffing levels as part of our budget reduction strategy for 2013/14. The public needs to know that this district does not have hundreds of excess staff who are not serving our students. In fact, all of our teaching staff are assigned to classrooms and educational programs and all of our classified staff are serving students in critical support positions.
So they’re not laying around. But even with the statewide tax hikes going into effect, Kowba wrote this:
It is a fact that the district will need to reduce another 300-400 teaching and other positions in the next budget year. We are developing a plan to accomplish this reduction through staff attrition which will result in some increases in class sizes.
Kowba said he “can only surmise” that this is what Dobbs was referring to. Kowba is his boss and could just ask Dobbs, but OK.
This “excess” situation is due not only to funding, though, but student enrollment declines. There’s just not the same number of students.
Former San Diego Unified Superintendent Terry Grier, who is now leading Houston’s school district, tweeted that, in 2009, he had laid off 100 “excess teachers” in 2009 only to have the board hire them back.
When I asked Grier how he defined excess teachers, he tweeted this:
“One-hundred more teachers than we needed to staff schools at state and district student to teacher ratios!”
4. New Money Is Going to Reserves
There’s been substantial discussion that the new money for public education made available by Proposition 30’s tax increase will only go directly to fund deferred raises for teachers.
Dobbs said this, though, during the interview with Carless.
… we’re going to introduce a resolution, trustee Barrera is going to sponsor it, to build our reserves. So when new money comes in, just know, it’s going to be in our reserves.
Now, the union’s going to be against that.
That seems like news. Kowba did not address it.
5. Unions Run the District
Finally, Kowba didn’t address Dobbs’ point that their bosses, the five trustees on the Board of Education, are “placed, strategically, by the labor unions.”
Kowba didn’t refute that or apologize for it.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at email@example.com or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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