Union Stubborn as San Diego School District Faces Insolvency

School board member Scott Barnett has offered a sober plan to stabilize the massive financial problems facing the San Diego Unified School District and save the district from possible insolvency and a state takeover, writes Ben Velderman at EAG Communications.

But the San Diego Education Association, the union representing the district's teachers, is calling Barnett an alarmist, and is refusing to consider a temporary pay cut for district staff and shared insurance costs.

The standoff has the potential to more layoffs of younger teachers, further revoking of student programs and a complete financial meltdown for the district.

"We have to choose between disaster and insolvency," Barnett told Education Action Group in a recent interview. "I don't believe any of our employees deserve a pay cut, but we can't survive without it."

The harsh economy has meant the district now receives less financial aid from the state, and along with shrinking student enrollment, a downgraded credit rating, and a difficult teachers union the district seems to have entered into a dangerous fiscal territory.

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has recently cut $80 million from its budget, which resulted in "several hundred fewer teachers and more than 500 fewer support staff," according to a recent op-ed by SDUSD Superintendent Bill Kowba.

The district is projecting another $60 million shortfall for the 2012-13 school year. And if California's revenue projections fall short it would trigger a series of automatic state spending cuts early next year and the district may have to look at shortening its relatively brief school year by another seven days.

That would likely lead to insolvency, which would turn the district's day-to-day operations over to the state. Barnett said the state would retain control until the district digs itself out of debt, a process that could take as long as 30 years, writes Velderman.

Shelli Kurth, co-director of United Parents for Education, an independent, grassroots organization that represents the interests of parents in the San Diego school district, believes the union's rank-and-file members will eventually convince their leaders to put the interests of students first.

"I believe in my teachers, that they will stand up and make sure we're not balancing the budget on the backs of kids," Kurth told EAG.

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