By Claire Trageser
City News Service
The San Diego Unified School District's Board of Education on Tuesday began discussion of whether teachers and other personnel will receive layoff notices this spring.
To resolve an estimated $120 million budget shortfall for the next school year, district staff determined the equivalent of 910 full-time jobs could be chopped. Because some full time equivalent positions are shared by part-time employees, the actual number of people receiving layoff notices could be higher.
In previous years, most of the teacher layoffs were rescinded before the jobs were actually eliminated, which board member Scott Barnett said was akin to "Lucy with the football and Charlie Brown."
However, district officials have said that because of the state and district budget deficits, and because the district's biggest expense is personnel costs, the chances are slimmer that layoff notices will be pulled back this time.
Barnett introduced a motion Tuesday to collect information on how many pink slips were issued in the last five years, how many of those layoffs were then rescinded, projected staff attrition numbers for the next school year and a breakdown on how many pink slips would come from budget reductions and enrollment decreases.
Barnett's motion decreed the board would continue the layoff discussion with this new information on March 10. It passed unanimously.
Under state law, teachers must be notified by March 15 if they are in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
Board member Kevin Beiser said he hopes to avoid issuing pink slips that are later rescinded, calling the process "the pink slip yo-yo," and said because he is a teacher, he has seen it happen to his friends.
"They're devastated, they don't know how they'll pay their mortgage, how they'll make their car payments," Beiser said.
"They're absolutely pawns in a game that makes no sense. This state is one of the only states in the U.S. that makes school districts pass a budget before you know how much money you're going to have.''
About half the proposed cuts would affect elementary school teachers,
and nearly 230 are middle and high school teachers, including 83 English and 45 music instructors.
The proposed reductions also include eight principals, 25 vice principals, 42 nurses and 59 counselors.
More than 100 people came to the board's meeting to protest the proposal, many wearing red T-shirts that read, "Together We Are Stronger."
A teacher at Garfield High School, Michelle Sanchez, said she received a pink slip last year but then was not laid off and was afraid of repeating the process this year.
"It's exhausting to think of all the uncertainty that may or may not be ahead of me," Sanchez said. "The students are the ones impacted most during uncertain times.''
Marion Snell, a school librarian, said librarians were a necessary part of the education process because they teach students to read.
"Now the people I work for tell me I'm an expensive frill," Snell said.
Christian Boyd, a school counselor, said her school put a list of staff's names on the wall and asked them to vote on who should be laid off.
"The budget process has been very divisive," Boyd said.
Camille Zombro, the vice president of the teachers union, said teachers were "fed up with the cuts."
"They're forced to work in a new normal where there is too much work and not enough time," Zombro said. "They're fed up with being scapegoats for the corporate greed that got us into this mess in the first place."
Barnett said the entire district's staff would have to work together to avoid layoffs.
"We need every single one of you, every nurse, counselor and principal to say we're not giving up," Barnett said. "You have to suggest ways to us to be more efficient and save money."
Board member Shelia Jackson said the district would have to think creatively and consider other options, including furloughs, to avoid layoffs.
"We can't have everything, but what we do know is when September comes, we have to have highly qualified people standing in front of our students," Jackson said.
The board also discussed whether to implement a hiring freeze. Barnett said the board should not make districtwide decisions on hiring to leave room for exceptions.
"It seems that not in every circumstance, but in most circumstances, we should not fill a position unless it is critical," Barnett said.
Barnett suggested including the chair of the audit committee in the new hire approval process to "have one other source to review it" and asked staff to prepare suggestions for a "fine-tuned approval process."
"There's a lot of stuff going on autopilot, primarily in personnel issues," Barnett said.
Beiser also said he had "very grave reservations about implementing a hiring freeze."
"We really want to be sure we're not tying the hands of principals and sites so they can have the flexibility and freedom to take care of those children," Beiser said.