Barnett: Salary cuts, parcel tax could close school funds gap

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

A San Diego Unified School District trustee released a plan Monday that he said would save the district from insolvency, while a colleague called for sparing teachers and staff from bearing the burden of looming spending cuts.

Scott Barnett said his plan, which he will introduce at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, would save the district $60 million. The SDUSD faces the prospect of making budget cuts in the middle of the current school year and a projected shortfall that could top $100 million in the next academic year.

My plan will not require closing schools; my plan will not require increased class sizes; my plan will not require laying off employees,’' Barnett told City News Service.

He will, however, target employee expenses, which he said make up 90 percent of the district’s general fund spending. The school board has largely avoided major personnel cuts in the last five years of budgetary difficulties.

A press release from the San Diego Education Assocation, the teachers’ union, followed shortly after the press conference. It read, in part, “Barnett knows that proposals such as a 10 percent, across-the-board pay cut, dismantling employees’ healthcare and tying teacher compensation to ballot measures aren’t necessary or viable. Rather than work with the members of San Diego’s educational community to create a realistic long-term fiscal plan, Barnett has instead chosen to work on his rhetoric, suggesting publicly that San Diego’s teachers will agree to renegotiate our closed contact if we have a gun to our heads.”

The highlights of Barnett’s plan include:

• a 10 percent salary cut to save $60 million, using a sliding scale in

which higher-paid employees would lose more than 10 percent and lower-wage

workers would give up less than 10 percent;

• having employees bear the costs of health plans other than Kaiser, to save $12 million;

• putting off raises due teachers to save $20 million; and

• holding another election on a $50 parcel tax which, if passed, would result in canceling out the pay reductions within six months.

A parcel tax ballot measure last November failed, gaining a majority of 4,000 votes out of nearly 264,000 ballots cast — when it needed 66 percent approval. However it might pass this time because the public understands better the precarious nature of district finances, he said.

“We’re facing either disaster or insolvency,’' Barnett said.

The parcel tax provision drew opposition from District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who is running for mayor. She said city voters made their decision last November.

Their message to the district was clear — get your financial house in order, without raising taxes,’' Dumanis said in a statement emailed to the media.San Diego Unified needs to get serious about bringing costs in line with reality and reforming the way it does business.’'

She said both the city and county governments have already addressed workforce expenditures,’' and it’s time for the school district to do the same.

His plan would increase some costs, but continue raises that employees receive for years of service or other contractual reasons, and in September 2013 restore the five furlough days to the school year.

The employee concessions in his plan would require union approval.

“I know this plan has something for everyone to dislike,” Barnett said. “Employees will bear the terrible burden of a pay cut and taxpayers will be asked to dig in their pockets, but this plan saves our district from insolvency and state takeover.’'

His colleague, John Lee Evans, said he wants to hold a discussion during Tuesday’s meeting regarding budget options that don’t place the brunt of mid-year cuts on the backs of teachers and other staff.