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Friday, February 20, 2009

DJUSD Looks at State Budget Impact

DTA Stakes Out Position Against Salary Cuts

For the first time, DJUSD last night began working with real budget numbers rather than rough approximations. The bottom line is that California education took a pretty hard hit and unfortunately, they did not get the kind of full categorical flexibility that they were hoping for. In the coming days and weeks, we will examine some of these numbers more thoroughly.

Right now, we will just offer a brief summary of the district's budget picture and focus on some interesting responses from DTA and the community regarding the issue of the Davis High School Football Field and Track Renovation as well DTA's believed preference to take the 20 RFK's rather than a salary reduction.

But first a brief look at the budget climate at least right now. The state decided not to cut the number of school days. So the 180 day school remains in effect. The school district could have saved $250,000 for each day that was cut from the schedule, but that did not make it to the final budget.

Nor for all effective purposes was flexibility in the text books categorical funding. That would have been a way to save over $800,000 by forgoing updated English and Math text books. But again, that is not to be.

Finally, the speculation is that the state is going to soak up all of the federal stimulus money in order to balance their own budget. There was at one point speculation that DJUSD could get one to two million from that pot, but that is believed to be off the table as well.

There is some categorical flexibility, but that flexibility is off-set by nearly one million in categorical fund reductions. Moreover, there are decreased penalties for going over the 20:1 ratio for class size, but it is not a full flexibility either.

In short, the district is going to have to find a way to reduce its deficit and the most likely to occur either through salary cuts to employees or through pink slips.


What is becoming interesting at this point is where the teachers and DTA stand in terms of what the district ought to be doing. Several came up and spoke during public comment expressing displeasure at the district's decision to fund the construction of the new DHS football stadium.

This has become a source of great criticism within the community. Indeed in the Davis Enterprise yesterday appeared two letters criticizing the building of the new stadium.

The most pointed read:
"'Teachers asked to take 2.5% pay cut' along with a higher headline citing the school board's decision to proceed with a $4 million plan to upgrade the football stadium. What a travesty!

Obviously, a stadium is more important than classrooms and teachers and student learning."
Coupled with the criticism during public comment, Superintendent James Hammond responded in perhaps his most heated manner yet attempting to explain once again the funding issue.

What the district needs to understand on this point is that they are not only losing this public relations battle, they are getting killed by it. In terms of the facts, the district is right, the funding sources are different, funds that are available for construction cannot be used for instruction.

Guess what? The public is not going to understand that. They see multimillion dollar upgrades to a football stadium and at the same time the district is contemplating about cutting teacher positions or asking them to take salary cuts, and the public is going to be suspicious of the school district.

The district now puts itself into a bad position. They either have to try to explain this to the public, which will be difficult and perhaps not fruitful. Or they can allow these beliefs to fester. There is no election at this point in time, but people do not forget these kinds of things.

From the teachers standpoint, DTA President Ingrim Salim laid it on the line last night.
"I want to address the stadium question because it is out there. I think what you should all be aware of is that certainly there is different pots of money and many of us can grasp that, but not all of us does. That’s just confusing. It’s going to be really hard to mitigate the effects of the confusion.

The second piece from the DTA standpoint is that while probably from the community standpoint they supported the stadium, certainly within the teaching community, they really wanted to see Emerson renovated. There’s not a way to fix that perception either."
The teacher issue thus is somewhat different. They understand the funding differences, at least in theory, but they believe that the priority should have been Emerson rather than the high school.

The district has a difficult position here because they are correct on two essential points. As mentioned before the funding. And the second problem is that the current situation is untenable. You have a serious safety risk, and that is a liability to the district.

However, the timing of this could not have been worse.


Ingrid Salim's follow up comments were just as interesting. As she laid out for the district the likely but not official DTA position on salary cuts. Basically they would rather take the 20 position cuts rather than a reduction of salary.

Here is her lengthy statement from last night:
"Last year we did have reserves and yet we RFK’d 114 people. So people are just suspicious even though I can look at the budget numbers and see what happened as a result of last year and now we’re not being quite so conservative. But last year there was money in reserves that weren’t applied immediate to personnel. So we RFK’d people, we didn’t end up laying off, and we backfilled. We filled back in with DSF money… But we didn’t use those reserves right away. So that might give some understand about why people keep questioning about are there reserves and are suspicious that there might be. I personally don’t question that, I think we’re using them differently than we did before. That’s just the background of where that suspicion comes from.

The last piece of that is that it’s just real hard to correct misinformation that gets out. Whenever people are defensive and afraid for jobs and for money or whatever they certainly spin things. We can do our best job to try to correct misinformation but it’s just a battle. So just to know that. We can civilly disagree but the battle of misinformation will still be there. And perceptions are very hard to fight.

The other dicey piece is that you asked both unions to consider salary cuts and where w are is a combination of all of these perceptions. The reality is that we would have to have all of our membership voting or over half of them… Our union will be doing a survey to see where people are in terms of what they want to do.

But the undercurrent that we’re getting if we’re really talking about 20 jobs, and last year it was 114 and we weren’t talking about a salary cut, that probably the majority of the people say that’s okay. It’s okay to cut 20 jobs. Basically that’s programs that probably need to be tightened anyway if we’re going to have sustainable education with a smaller budget. The bulk of people that we’re hearing and getting information from, and like I said we don’t have a formal hearing to say that for sure, but that’s sort of the sense we’re getting…

We’re certainly going to ask, we’re certainly going to push forward with this concept, and there are people who say no, let’s take a cut for everyone. But that’s kind of what’s out there right now.

The final part is that there are places where we’d say it would be okay to increase class size, for instance at the 9/ 10. I’m not speaking for DTA, I’m just saying things that we might say. The 9/10 English and Math to [a class size of] 24 instead of 22. That’s not a huge impact on class size reduction. That would be preferable to something like considering a salary cut.

We do worry about the logistics of putting into place something like a salary cut or anything like that, because of the exit strategy—when do you change it? What happens to retirees? And all those little tiny things that just seem huge and overwhelming.

We will start that process next Tuesday [petitioning our members]. We’re pretty comfortable about where things are right now in terms of going forward. We’re going to be going over the budget pretty closely ourselves, finetooth combing, trying to find other ways to meet this deficit."
From my standpoint, the position laid out by Ms. Salim makes a good deal of sense from the teacher's standpoint. Salary cuts are problematic for a number of reasons including the difficulty of making ends meet during tough economic times.

Furthermore two other essential points were raise. First, the sheer number, if it is indeed 20, one would think the likelihood of anyone losing their job was pretty small. For one thing you have attrition through retirements and through people moving.

Second, she makes the point, a point that was made on this blog at times, that if we want to have a sustainable education on a smaller budget, and a smaller budget is the reality right now, then tightening up the programs is probably a way to do it.

The part that somewhat surprised me is that the teachers support a slight increase of class size at the 9/ 10 level, a level given full flexibility by the state, from 22 to 24. She argued that was not a huge impact on class size reduction but was preferable to taking a salary cut.

The bottom line here is that a salary cut would have to be negotiated with the DTA through the collective bargaining process. This was a strong and public signal that DTA is not there right now.

The school district has an ongoing perception problem in dealing with the DHS stadium repair. They had better get on top of that issue or it could backfire on them in the future.

---David M. Greenwald reporting