By Kathy Day
La Jolla High will start the new school year on Sept. 4 with a full contingent of teachers, but Principal Dana Shelburne said there’s still some question about whether they will still be there when the district takes its enrollment count in late September.
Once San Diego Unified School District trustees and the San Diego Education Association reached an agreement on contract concessions that saved 1,000 teachers’ jobs, Shelburne knew that he would have the same number of positions the school had when the 2011-12 year ended.
But now, he wondered aloud, “What if not enough students come back?”
And on top of that, there’s the uncertainty about what happens if voters don’t approve one of the two tax measures – Propositions 30 and 38 — on the November ballot that would raise funds for education. If that happens, district officials have said it will mean reducing the school year by up to 14 days and teacher salaries would be cut by a corresponding amount.
Shelburne knows the answer to the first scenario – cut teachers – and fears the effects of the second.
The student count and budget drama have put a crimp on assigning teachers to classes, he said. He has been asking himself whether to assign them all and hope that enrollment comes up to where it was at the end of last year. Or does he leave a couple of teachers floating without specific assignments in case it doesn’t?
At the end of last week, the district was set to ask principals what their needs are based on anticipated enrollment, which in LJHS’s case looks to be down about 30 students, Shelburne said.
But he won’t really know until the students sit down in class. Some may be headed to charter or private schools; others may have moved. Or the opposite could happen: Parents might not be able to afford the private tuition or charter schools didn’t work out.
“It’s hard to track demographics,” the principal said. “We just don’t know. We ask parents to make appointments … but people just don’t call and say ‘I’m leaving the district.”
So he’s building a scheduled based on needing 55 teachers, but there’s a possibility the district may tell him to take back more and he has to figure out how to squeeze them out of his allotted budget.
And then on the second Friday in September, the district takes a head count, followed by another at the end of the month. That’s when he may have to make adjustments.
“If I have two teachers I may not be able to keep, should I put them in the library so there’s no impact on students or (in case) I get to keep them, should I put them on the schedule now?” he said.
Either way it means changing schedules and “disrupting kids,” he said. While having additional teachers means smaller classes “either case is not good.”
As of last week, he still hadn’t decided which way to go even as seniors were set to start registering on Friday.
“I have made the master schedule and altered it and altered it again,” he said, noting that students would see a tentative schedule when they arrive for class signups. “Our job is to keep all this as invisible to the kids as possible.”
Making class assignments also gets the added challenge of the district’s “post-and-bid” process in which a principal posts an opening and teachers bid on the job.
They just filled one spot for an English teacher on Aug. 23 and have requests in for an American Sign Language teacher and a special education teacher, as well as two counselors — which would get them back to the three they ended the year with. In good times, Shelburne noted, they had five counselors.
Because of the budget uncertainties, the principal said he has “lost some very good people.”
A French teacher took a job at a private school and two counselors left, one for a post in Poway and one with the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad.
They’re leaving, he noted, because there’s more stability and better pay in other places. Already teachers and administrators have agreed to five furlough days and they face that possibility of 14 more, each coming with corresponding pay cuts.
Worse though, he said, is that if students lose 14 more days of classes that’s nearly a month.
“It’s all because the adults in Sacramento and San Diego Unified are not doing their jobs, meaning kids enjoy a good deal less school,” he added.
There’s also the unanticipated result that bright young people who might have become teachers are less drawn to the profession.
“I have tenured teachers who have gotten pink slips for seven years,” Shelburne said. “It’s gut-wrenching, acid-burning and doesn’t make young people feel valued.”
Throughout all the bad news, though, there is good news, he added.
“We have a creative parent support group,” and there’s activity all around campus with athletes preparing for their seasons.
One of those support groups is the La Jolla High Foundation that raised about $190,000 to support the school this year. Funds have been designated for school supplies, technology, an athletic trainer, and textbooks, according to Sandy Fitzpatrick who has stepped down as foundation president and turned the reins over to Jeff Macelli.
And despite the juggling, only one program – classes in psychology and sociology that aren’t required for graduation – was eliminated because there was no one to teach it, Shelburne said.