By James R. Riffel
City News Service
With budget deficits looming years into the future, a San Diego Unified School District trustee on Friday called on employees to give up promised upcoming pay raises.
In exchange, employee layoffs would be less likely in the years ahead, Board of Education member Scott Barnett said.
The district has already sent layoff notices to hundreds of teachers and staff, effective at the end of the school year.
Barnett said the district asked all of its employee unions to renegotiate their contracts.
"Sadly, except for the school police association, they said 'no, we don't even want to talk to you about it,''' Barnett said. "I don't understand why the leaders who represent the employees won't even talk to us.''
Bill Freeman, the president of the teachers' union — the San Diego Education Association — accused Barnett of "grandstanding.''
The school board is struggling to close a budget gap that could still reach $50 million in the next academic year, depending on how fiscal politics play out at the state level, according to district figures.
The worst-case scenario shortfall climbs to $95 million in the following year, and $128 million the year after. Even in the best-case scenario, the district faces a $100 million deficit in the 2013-14 school year.
Meanwhile, the SDUSD is liable for automatic pay increases totaling $12.5 million next year and $15 million in 2012-13, and negotiated salary hikes of an additional $22 million in 2012-13.
The automatic pay raises are based on criteria such as worker longevity. Among the negotiated increases was last year's contract with the SDEA that promises a 2 percent raise effective July 1, 2012, a second 2 percent wage increase due Jan. 1, 2013, and a 3 percent salary bump on June 30, 2013, the day the contract expires.
The teachers got the future pay raises in exchange for immediate unpaid furlough days and higher health care premiums.
Barnett said the school board counted on an improving economy and an ultimately failed tax measure on property to offset the pay hikes. He was not a trustee when the deal was reached.
Barnett told reporters that it would shock the public to know the district is handing out $17 million in automatic pay increases in the current fiscal year while at the same time preparing to lay off employees.
"I believe (the workers) deserve the raises, but we can't afford it — it's that simple,'' Barnett said.
He said the impact of the layoffs is that class sizes will be increased in September, and there will be significantly fewer counselors, nurses and bus drivers.
The union leader said the district doesn't have a fiscal issue, but a problem with priorities. He charged that administrators want to keep their petprojects, and that's why the union has to take a stand.
"Otherwise this will never stop,'' Freeman said. "Teachers will end up opening their pockets every year.''