Todd Maddison is the director of research at Transparent California and a founder of the San Diego Schools and Parent Association education advocacy groups.
Anyone who follows K-12 education will tell you we’re facing a crisis.
The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) numbers expose declines in academic performance to unprecedented levels, confirming what the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) reported last year.
We are depriving a generation of kids of the quality education they need to succeed. That needs to be fixed.
Anyone who attends school board meetings has heard the problem is “lack of funding from the state.” We are told this by people you would expect to know that per student revenue has grown at a rate almost three times faster than inflation (8.44 percent/year) in the last decade. At least according to California Department of Education (CDE) numbers
In San Diego Unified, growth has matched this pace, growing at a rate of 8.10 percent/year, from $9,973/student in 2013 to $20,107 in 2022. Again, almost three times inflation.
Any private business whose revenue per customer increased three times faster than inflation would be popping corks, not complaining. And using those profits to improve their business. But not our education industry, where we hear griping and see declines in quality, not improvement.
At SDUSD, the latest state reporting shows only 53 percent of students meet standards for English and only a miserable 41 percent making the grade in math. Both are significant declines from the last full data set, published in 2019.
One number has not declined – employee compensation. From SDUSD’s own payroll records, obtained using a legal public records request and posted for anyone to see on the Transparent California website, data show in 2022 the median total pay of a full time certificated employee was $102,024. For comparison, the latest U.S. Census Bureau data shows private workers with equivalent education in San Diego County made $87,784.
And this doesn’t account for the additional benefits teachers receive in contributions toward their retirement.
Last year, teachers had 27.8 percent of their pay contributed to their retirement. That’s a whopping 17.6 percent more than private workers, where total retirement contributions typically average 10.2 percent. In dollars that’s almost $18,000 extra each year. To match take home pay while funding their retirement you and I would have to make $120,000/year.
But… that’s not enough. The SDUSD Board recently approved a bonus raise adding 15 percent over the next two years. In 2025 private workers will have to make $138,000/year to hold even.
Meanwhile, you would think this means SDUSD is looking at a bright financial future, but there are dark clouds ahead.
The approval process requires the district disclose the costs and terms. The County Office of Education’s response to that disclosure says, in bold face and underlined, “the district will need to make budget reductions of approximately $129 million by fiscal year 2024-25 and an additional $53 million in 2025-26 in order to remain fiscally solvent and meet the required minimum reserve.”
This disclosure requires the district indicate what “specific impacts on instructional and support programs” there will be to fund the agreement. SDUSD’s admits to the need for cuts but says nothing specific about them.
Fortunately, we have school boards, whose job is to be vigilant and stand up for the interests of our kids, right? You might expect trustees to speak up. Not at SDUSD. If you watch the video of the board meeting, you see exactly 75 seconds of discussion.
The only board comment is a congratulation for the negotiating team. A team now in line for a “me too” raise, which applies the same raise to their own paychecks. Applied to the chief business officer (who made $250,000 last year) this may result in a raise of $37,500 by 2025.
Whether SDUSD employee pay is “too little, too much, or just right” is a judgment call for parents, but shouldn’t that judgment be informed by full disclosure of who is benefiting by how much and what the impact will be to kids? Is hiding the damage to education of kids to increase the size of your own bank account not reprehensible?
Next we will see the Board approving cuts and complaining – once again – that it’s because they need more funding. We will not hear them tell us it’s because they allowed employees to give that money to themselves.
This is not unique to San Diego Unified. I’ve watched many such “negotiations” in districts across California, and they almost always go this way. The interests of adults are always prioritized over kids, with boards completely derelict in their duty as protectors of education.
Joe Biden says, “don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” We can see what San Diego Unified values, and it’s not the education of kids.
Update: This post has been updated to clarify the comparison of private workers are those in San Diego County.