A student from the Oceanside Unified School District takes a moment to rest after walking a two-mile route to protest the district’s decision to cut school buses. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
A student from the Oceanside Unified School District takes a moment to rest after walking a two-mile route to protest the district’s decision to cut school buses. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Even before the impending economic crises, we’ve been watching storm clouds gather over school funding for some time.

VOSD has examined the fiasco of Sweetwater Unified, reported on San Diego Unified’s budget problems and drilled into the redirection of special education funding. The Union-Tribune recently determined “nearly every San Diego County school district may be spending more than it can afford.”

And now the coronavirus and its impact on the economy will only bring more trouble.

Didn’t we all fix this in 2012, by approving Proposition 30, increasing taxes on ourselves to fund education?

Looking at the numbers one might think it worked. Since Prop. 30 was approved through 2019, Department of Education data shows funding in San Diego County is up almost $4,700 per student, over $1.25 billion.

That’s an increase of 5.88 percent per year, over twice the rate of inflation.

Yet we read of districts needing to make cuts, or having to tap into reserves just to fund everyday expenses – leaving them ill prepared for the actual economic uncertainties we’re now facing.

Where has all the money gone?

The truth is that districts are having difficulties because they’ve chosen to give most of this increased revenue to themselves, in the form of pay raises.

An analysis of pay data for San Diego County K-12 employees from 2012 through 2018 (the latest available) shows employees who have been with the district during this time have seen their median total pay rise $19,814/year, or 32 percent. That’s an average growth rate of 4.78 percent per year, during a period when funding rose at 5.38 percent per year.

And also a period when, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the people of San Diego County have gotten raises at 2.21 percent per year.

In other words, our school districts have been using their increased funding to give themselves raises at a rate matching the rise in revenue, well in excess of inflation or wage growth everywhere else.

Which has led us to a point where the median total pay for district administrators is $125,089 a year, and $88,291 per year for teachers.

Increases in the cost of special ed and pensions are not helping. But in raw dollars, extra pay raises for adults is by far the largest reason we need to cut from programs and services for our kids.

Meanwhile, in the periodic rush to give themselves those extra raises (above and beyond the normal annual increases built into their salary schedules) districts are ignoring state-mandated disclosure requirements that apply to that process.

While legally required to disclose the “specific impacts,” they almost never do.

Almost none of the districts have discussed a need to make any cuts to pay for their extra raises, despite the fact that some districts then announced cuts were needed, shortly after approving their raises, disclosures show. Those who did disclose often did so with vague “cuts may be needed” statements, never saying specifically what would be cut.

And the County Office of Education, legally responsible for notifying parent organizations if a raise may “endanger the fiscal well-being” of a district, refuses to do that. Parents are never notified.

If districts had held their rate of pay increase to the same you and I have received, there would be at least another $1.27 billion available in their budgets. A number coincidentally (maybe?) almost exactly equal to the increase in funding since Prop. 30.

In most districts I’ve examined, having that extra money available would change the discussion completely.

Instead of talking about cuts, we would be discussing what to do with extra money. And now, with the financial crises ahead, certainly having some padding in those reserves would be beneficial.

How can we parents know when our district officials are giving themselves raises that may ultimately lead to cuts for our kids? Especially when our districts won’t tell us before they approve them?

There is no easy way. Districts are apparently unconcerned about violating state disclosure laws and our County Office of Education feels no obligation to enforce its oversight. We have to do it ourselves.

One way to do this is to attend local board meetings. When approval of extra raises is on the agenda, ask your board exactly where the money to pay for those raises is going to come from.  And if they can’t clearly tell you, ask them why they are even considering approval.

Demand transparency. Remind them their duty is to parents and kids, not to district employees.

Knowledge is power, right? Use that power, take back your district.

Todd Maddison is a parent of two Oceanside Unified high schoolers, research manager for Transparent California, former parent representative on the LCAP committee and past co-leader of their District Parent Advisory Committee.

Todd Maddison is the director of research at Transparent California and a founder of the San Diego Schools and Parent Association education advocacy groups.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.