Education Matters: Of raises and deficits

In back-to-back items on the Dec. 14 San Dieguito Union High School District school board agenda, a raise was awarded to teachers just after district staff revealed its projection for a large deficit in 2017-2018.

“We have a deficit,” SDUHSD superintendent Eric Dill told board members, in response to trustee Mo Muir’s question to him asking if the district is in a financial crisis.

He said the district will pay higher pension contribution costs in the coming year, but “we’re anticipating that.” He added that additional state funding is expected, but he doesn’t yet know how much.

The district’s multi-year projection, according to district documents, shows reserves for 2017-2018 at about $13.5 million (9.4 percent of the total budget), down from last year’s $20.1 million.

For 2018-2019, reserves are projected to be around $7.73 million, or 5.5 percent of the total budget.

In 2019-2020, the unrestricted reserves balance is projected to be about $3.35 million, or 2.4 percent of the total budget.

Money set aside for special (restricted) reserves in 2019-2020 is about $2.57 million, which bumps up the total reserve that year to 4.2 percent of the budget.

The SDUHSD board-recommended minimum reserve is 4.5 percent, and the state’s minimum reserve requirement is 3 percent.

Even as reserves dwindle, pension contribution costs escalate, and the state budget for education remains uncertain, the board by a vote of 4-1 agreed to give San Dieguito teachers a raise of .5 percent, retroactive to July 1, 2017.

This is on top of the 12.5 percent raise all SDUHSD employees received two years ago, which costs taxpayers over $6 million annually – and was the reason the San Diego County Taxpayers Association awarded the district the dubious distinction of winning the agency’s Grand Golden Fleece Award in 2016.

This new raise will decrease the district’s general fund by just over $370,000 annually.

This only accounts for raises given to teachers. Traditionally, San Dieguito has awarded the same percentage raise to all other employees a month or two later.

In addition to this across-the-board raise, many teachers receive annual increases in compensation under step-and-column policies which provide automatic salary increases based on longevity and education credentials.

According to Dill, over one-third of teachers this year received step-and-column increases that are costing the district an additional $908,000.

Students first?

Cindy Frazee, SDUHSD’s Associate Superintendent of Human Resources, called the .5-percent raise a “modest increase” that helps offset the increased cost of health benefits.

But when Muir asked what percent health care costs have risen, Frazee didn’t know. Neither did Dill. Nor did Tina Douglas, SDUHSD’s Associate Superintendent of Business Services.

“We already have highly compensated teachers,” said trustee John Salazar, who was the lone vote against the raise.

Salazar said if the district had extra cash (which “we don’t”), the $370,000 could be better used to directly help students, by funding “other things we desperately need.”

He mentioned music and art programs, increased security, nurses and counselors.

With the district expected, as usual, to claim it has no money to pay for essential programs and supplies for students, parents should be prepared for foundations to hit them for donations even harder than before.

For its optimistic outlook on state funding, San Dieguito must be using a crystal ball unavailable to other San Diego County districts, most of which are cutting back.

San Diego Unified, for example, is facing a minimum shortfall of $47 million. A district spokesperson said state funding, and future district revenue, is uncertain. SD Unified aims to begin reducing expenses by first eliminating administrative costs.

It was only a few years ago that former SDUHSD superintendent Rick Schmitt expanded his top tier of administrators by adding a fourth Associate Superintendent position, for instructional services.

This position was created primarily to assist the workload of another high-level administrator who was out with a serious illness for months and has since recovered and returned to work.

Schmitt told me at the time that this position would disappear eventually. But when have bureaucracies ever eliminated newly created positions?

Meanwhile, teachers get another raise.

“Why would we hold this back?” said trustee Joyce Dalessandro, in support of the raise. “The teachers are Number One.”

The idea of Students First seems to have been forgotten.

Approved new election map

Cranberry is the fruit of the season.

With nearly 200 emails from residents in Pacific Highlands Ranch who voiced their preference for the Cranberry 1 election-by-trustee map, the board’s decision was quick – although making the motion to approve Cranberry 1 needed a bit of a kick-start from a student board member.

After the legal presentation on the pros and cons of all the maps, the board entered into what was feared to be a protracted, drawn-out, bitter discussion of each and every map, although initial interest was on Cranberry 1.

So Isaac Gelman, student board representative for Torrey Pines High School, cut to the chase and interjected when there was a brief pause early in the discussion by making a motion to approve Cranberry 1.

Dill, who seemed relieved that the issue would not drag on for hours, shook Isaac’s hand and gave him the appropriate language to read, to make his motion. It was seconded immediately and approved unanimously.

The new map will take effect for the 2018 election.

This map creates five separate voting areas and unites Pacific Highlands Ranch all together into Area 5, which is currently trustee Amy Herman’s district. Herman’s district will be electing a new trustee in 2018. Canyon Crest Academy is in Area 5.

Dalessandro represents Area 4 and serves until 2020, so there will be no election in Area 4 until then. Area 4, which includes Torrey Pines High School, stretches from Del Mar on the coast through the northern part of Carmel Valley and into the southern parts of Rancho Santa Fe.

Area 3, currently represented by Salazar, includes San Dieguito Academy and the communities of Solana Beach, Cardiff and the northern parts of Rancho Santa Fe. There will be an election for Area 3 in 2018.

Area 2 encompasses the eastern part of Encinitas and Carlsbad, including La Costa Canyon High School. This area is represented by trustee Beth Hergesheimer who was just elected in 2016 and serves until 2020, so there will be no election in this area in 2018.

Area 1 includes Sunset High School and the western part of Encinitas, and is represented by Muir. There will be an election for Area 1 in 2018.

Of the 119,226 eligible SDUHSD voters, Cranberry 1 gives Area 5, encompassing Pacific Highlands Ranch, the following breakdown: 64 percent white, 26 percent Asian and 7 percent Hispanic.

Area 4 is 80 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 8 percent Hispanic. Area 3 is 86 percent white, 4 percent Asian and 8 percent Hispanic. Area 2 is 84 percent white, 7 percent Asian and 7 percent Hispanic. Area 1 is 84 percent white, 6 percent Asian and 9 percent Hispanic.

To those who think their points of view don’t matter, take a lesson from the residents of Pacific Highlands Ranch whose letters managed to sway decision-makers on this seismically significant issue.

And kudos to Isaac Gelman for getting right to the point when the end result was obvious from the start. For cutting short what could have been an excruciatingly tedious map discussion, he was the hero of the evening.

Special education statistics

On the Dec. 20 agenda for SDUHSD’s Special Education Task Force meeting, paid facilitator Maureen O’Leary Burness presented statewide disability trends over time.

Thirteen disabilities are listed: intellectual disability, hard of hearing, deaf, speech or language impairment, visual impairment, emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, multiple disability, autism and traumatic brain injury.

Most categories have seen limited change between 2006 and 2016.

Those with significant declines in the 10 years include:

1. Speech and language impairment, from 178,597 to 159,750

2. Specific learning disability, from 306,938 to 288,294

The two categories that have seen a significant rise are:

1. Autism, from 39,706 to 97,156

2. Other health impairment, from 43,492 to 83,361

Mark Miller, SDUHSD’s Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services who heads special education for the district, said the statistics statewide for these four categories are consistent with SDUHSD’s.

In his experience overseeing special education at other districts, he said the “other health impairment” category “was an area of growth, especially at the elementary level.”

That category includes students with ADHD and ADD.

According to the presentation, the statewide average of general fund spending on special education is 20 percent.

Although the district did form a special education task force as parents requested, dissatisfaction remains with how the program continues to be run. Many parents feel much-needed change is still a long way away.

Creation of the task force is a good start. Let’s hope it leads to the achievable goals demanded by parents.

— Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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