Fiscal doves at Del Mar’s bargaining table

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

My reason for attending my first Del Mar Union School District board meeting in nearly a year last week was an item on the Aug. 24 agenda to discuss, somewhat belatedly, the $500,000 cash bonuses given last fiscal year to all DMUSD employees using Federal Education Jobs Fund money.

After stories appeared in the June 30 and July 28 issues of this newspaper, public outcry over the misuse of the money triggered school board president Comischell Rodriguez to place the item on the August agenda.

Why this matter was not thoroughly discussed before, rather than after, the board voted last December to approve the giveaway is a question worth asking.

Rodriguez tried without success to blame the previous board, of which she was a member, for approving the bonuses. Since the issue was negotiated with the teachers’ union in the fall of 2010, she asked DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody why the school board vote was delayed until the new board’s first meeting in December 2010.

Peabody said the union needed time for its member teachers to vote on the matter. (Why the teachers were voting on it before the school board had approved it is another question worth asking.)

The board packet offered two explanations for giving each full-time employee $1,000 of federal money (totaling about $500,000) that was intended to be used to “save or create” teaching jobs.

The first explanation was that the district hired 12 new teachers during the 2010-2011 school year, and, according to Peabody’s report, “the expense of adding the teachers was slightly higher than the one-time funds provided by the Federal Jobs Fund.”

The implication of this argument was that none of the Jobs Fund money should be used for that purpose since the available money could only partially cover the cost for one year of the 12 teachers’ salaries.

That should leave you speechless. This is a perfect example of exactly what the money was intended for, whether it fully covered the salaries or not. It would have saved $500,000 from the general fund.

Peabody’s second point, which the board primarily focused on, concerned teachers’ complaints about rising health care costs. Peabody set up a false dichotomy, saying the district could either offer $1,000 to each employee to help cover rising health care costs, or the district could raise the health insurance cap for employees, which would mean a $500,000 annual, ongoing increase in district expenses.

“By providing one-time funds instead of an ongoing commitment, the district reduced its obligation by $500,269 a year,” Peabody’s board report reads.

But this assumes those were the only two options. How about not doing either? I didn’t see anyone holding a gun to Peabody’s head.

The district’s foundation is charged with asking/begging parents to donate money to save Extended Studies Curriculum (ESC) teachers’ jobs each year. This will be a task made all the more difficult after parents see that the district frittered away $500,000.

Besides using it for ESC, the money could have supported for one year the bulk of the salaries of those 12 new teachers. Or it could have been used to pump up the district’s reserves so other programs including low class sizes could be maintained. Or paid for librarians. Or classroom aides. Or science and technology lab aides. Or … or … or …?

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