San Diego Unified’s workforce is down 857 employees compared with last school year, but that drop comes after a staffing surge added hundreds of people to the payroll in recent years, newly released district data shows.

District staffing numbers shed light on the impact job cuts and 1,128 incentivized retirements ultimately had on the county’s largest school district, which initially planned to lay off more than 1,500 employees to help cut millions in spending earlier this year.

Though the precise number of district employees actually laid off remains elusive, the new numbers show overall employee ranks dropped from 13,760 to 12,893 people from June 30 to Sept. 20, for a 6 percent decrease this school year.

Non-teaching staff decreased by 398 employees, while certificated staff — a group that includes teachers, counselors and nurses — are down 373 employees, according to district figures. Managers lost 91 employees.

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Meanwhile, the size of San Diego Unified’s student population in district-run schools is down to 105,800 students.

The school district recently provided several years of staffing data — 207 days after Voice of San Diego requested it under the California Public Records Act. It took Los Angeles Unified School District 15 days to respond to the same request.

The employee losses are having an impact, Lindsay Burningham, president of the teachers union, said as the school year was getting under way.

“We have many sites right now that did not have a smooth opening, that are very understaffed,” Burningham told the school board Sept. 12. “We are currently dealing with the fact that a multitude of our schools are starting the year understaffed and without the adequate supports they require, an issue that could have been avoided.”

Though San Diego Unified staffing is down this year, look back a little further and a different trend emerges. The number of people employed by the district was on the rise before the latest cuts were made, even though the student population was declining, district records show.

Superintendent Cindy Marten took the top job at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year and initially oversaw a decrease in total employees. That began to change in the 2015-16 school year.

Between June 30, 2015, and June 30, 2017, the number of certificated employees rose by 526 people, and manager ranks rose by 42 people.

Here’s what district staffing has looked like over the last 10 years, compared with student enrollment in district-run schools.

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Staffing never returned to the levels seen in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but adding hundreds of new employees in the last few years meant new costs for salaries, pensions and other benefits like health insurance.

District officials this week couldn’t say how much the new hires cost the district, and couldn’t immediately explain what caused the staffing increase, though school board member John Lee Evans said increased special education staff and high school counselors could have had something to do with it.

Despite the latest cuts, the school district’s general fund expenses will still outpace revenues by $24.65 million this year, according to a Sept. 12 budget report. Last fiscal year ended with general fund revenues coming up $80.7 million short.

Employee salaries paid out of the general fund are expected to come in $66 million lower this year compared with last year, but employee benefits will still cost the general fund $26 million more, according to the same report.

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Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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