Sweetwater Union High School Board President Paula Hall / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Exactly what Sweetwater Union High School District will have to do in order to avoid going bust is coming into focus.

The district is planning to cut 30 percent of its central office staff. Assistant principals and psychologists will also be let go, but so far it is unclear how many, said board Trustee Paula Hall. Superintendent Karen Janney held a meeting with management-level staff to inform them of the proposed changes Thursday night, said Sweetwater spokesman Manny Rubio.

An early retirement deal for teachers, as well as proposed cuts to career technical education and extra support teachers, known as curriculum intervention specialists, mean there will also be fewer people working directly with students inside each Sweetwater school next year.

Sweetwater – the county’s second largest school district – is in the middle of an unprecedented budget crisis. District officials said they suddenly discovered a $30 million budget shortfall in September. Since then, it has become clear some Sweetwater officials knew the district’s finances were off. State officials have said that some administrators acted to cover up the fact that the district was overspending by tens of millions of dollars.

The district is currently being investigated by one state agency and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We have to take immediate action for savings to stabilize the district. These are the only options we have,” board trustee Paula Hall told me, referring to the reductions. Cutting central office staff, assistant principals and school psychologists, she said, would have the least impact in the classroom.

Administrators do not know exactly where those cuts will hit hardest. The district has roughly 55 administrators working in its central office. If the district cuts 30 percent of that workforce, that would represent a loss of roughly 16 positions.

But district officials have not shared how many assistant principals and psychologists will be laid off. Sweetwater has more than 30 schools and 39,000 students. Most schools have between one and three assistant principals. The district has roughly 30 psychologists.

Assistant principals are responsible for much of the day-to-day running of a school. They handle the school’s master schedule, discipline problems, deal with parents’ questions or complaints and generally put out fires.

School psychologists manage the caseload of hundreds of special education students, who receive individualized education programs, or IEPs. They also deal with mental health issues and student support.

Janney has said she wants to make the most “humane” cuts possible to the district. As part of an early retirement deal that roughly 300 people took in December, the district agreed not to lay off any teachers this year. The early retirement deal is still ongoing, and many teachers who leave the district will not be replaced.

School sites have already reported increased class sizes that will likely grow bigger next year.

Any major staffing changes will have to be approved by Sweetwater’s board of trustees. They will hold a special closed-door meeting this Saturday to begin deciding exactly which jobs to eliminate.

Employees who hold a teaching certificate, such as assistant principals, must be notified by March 15 of every school year whether they are at risk of being laid off. By May 15, districts must tell those employees definitively whether they will lose their jobs.

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at will@vosd.org or 619-693-6249.

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