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“They’ve let me off my leash,” Stan “Data” Dobbs, CFO of the San Diego Unified School District, told me last night with a broad grin.

Dobbs, who had a rather ignominious introduction to San Diego after a Voice of San Diego interview that he later apologized for, made a presentation to a group of parents, residents and district officials Thursday night.

In an interview during the event, Dobbs sought to clarify his controversial statement that the district has “hundreds of excess employees” that are “literally lying around.”

Dobbs explained that the district’s new attrition-based model seeks to ensure that individual schools don’t have more teachers than they are officially entitled to.

In the past, he said, the district has threatened layoffs, then brought teachers back without properly considering whether they should return to their old positions or be “excessed” and given jobs elsewhere in the district.

Here’s a transcript of part of my interview with Dobbs:

Dobbs: When you talk about excess people, you’re talking about the number of people that are assigned to a school site, based on the allocation — the number of people projected to be there.

So, if your school is projected to have 300 students, then, if the class size is 30-1, then you get 10 teachers. Well, let’s say you have 14 teachers already. Well now you have four teachers that are excess. But if no one ever did anything about the 14 teachers, you would take your 300 kids, divide them by 14 and have 25 or 24 kids in a class instead of 30.

So your point is that this attrition model forces everybody to actually get to the ratios where they’re supposed to be?

Yes. It pushes the ratio to where it’s intended, from an allocation standpoint. Plus, you’ve got to keep in mind, if I gave you 10 teachers’ worth of money, that’s the money I have available, but if there are 14 teachers at the site, that’s 14 payrolls I’ve got to make, and I’ve only got 10 payrolls’ worth of money. So that’s where the conflict comes.

So, someone’s got to say, “These four have got to go?”

That’s when we identify what the excess teachers are.

Going back to what you said about 10 teachers and 14 teachers — how did a school ever end up with the 14 teachers?

Because at some point of time, you might have had 320 students at the school, then kids moved on somewhere and now you’ve got 300 kids, but you’ve still got 12 teachers.

But, if you have a layoff, then you rescind a layoff and bring everybody back, then everybody will go back to where they were.

So it never gets figured out?

It never gets figured out.

Say you do that two or three years in a row, and everybody comes back, at some point in time you look up and you find you’ve got 14 people instead of 10, but you’ve also got 40 less kids, because you never adjusted for the enrollment reduction because some of those kids went to charter schools or wherever.

But they’re not laying around, though?

No! Nobody’s laying around! Teachers aren’t laying around, they’re actively engaged in providing an educational and academic experience to children, but it’s not at the academic allocation that we budgeted for, it’s an allocation base on who’s there.

♦♦♦

Dobbs’ insights are fascinating, and I’ll be drilling into them some more.

The district has always claimed to be keeping a very close watch on its staffing levels, ensuring that all students are treated fairly and that class sizes are equal across the district.

It’s hard to understand how the district’s Human Resources Department can be ensuring equity in class sizes given the failings Dobbs describes. If the layoff process has affected allocations, as Dobbs says, then presumably class sizes have been varying wildly across the district for the last few years — hardly an efficient, or fair, system.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org 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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