4/23/08

School unions take dues hit in San Diego

About 1,200 “nuts and bolts” jobs in the San Diego Unified School District were eliminated by the Board of Education yesterday to help make $80 million in budget cuts. Trustees voted 3-2 to eliminate or reduce hours for a range of positions, including truck drivers and office staff, special-education workers and campus security guards. Unlike the 903 teaching employees who last month received notices that they could be laid off, these employees will be out of work June 30.

Bus monitor Deanna Smiley, who accompanies special-education students to and from school every day, became emotional when trustees eliminated her position.

“I'm really upset because I love these kids,” Smiley said. “They really need someone to take care of them while they ride the bus. Who's going to look after these kids?”

Why the layoffs?

School districts up and down California have been slashing their budgets in anticipation of the governor's proposed $4.4 billion reduction to education funding. Should the state budget picture improve, the district could reinstate programs and employees. But the San Diego Unified School District is bracing for the worst-case scenario.
Trustees listened for hours as employees, parents and students urged them to reject the layoffs, as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed education spending cuts.

“We are the nuts and bolts of the school district. There is no way the schools can run without these people,” said Gustavo Padilla, vice president of the local chapter of the California School Employees Association, which represents the district's 6,000 classified employees.

For example, he said, cutting truck driver positions will make it difficult to deliver thousands of new textbooks – 40 titles were reordered – to schools on time. Fewer warehouse workers mean it will be tough to prepare three new schools slated to open in the fall.

More than 1,000 teachers and others rallied outside the district's Normal Street headquarters to support their colleagues. The chants of protesters and honks of support from passing motorists filtered into the meeting chambers.

The school board voted in March to approve sweeping budget cuts that also will increase class sizes and eliminate programs. The board has until May 15 to finalize decisions for its teachers.

Newly hired Superintendent Terry Grier remained quiet during most of the meeting. But he promised to try “cut more from the top,” including an attempt to increase layoffs at central office administration to 198 from the proposed 150.

“I have heard you,” Grier said. “I know who works hard. I know who's underpaid.”

In response to calls from the crowd to protect jobs and defy the governor, Board President Katherine Nakamura said: “If we stand up and not make these cuts, that feels good as an act of civil disobedience. When we can't pay the electric bills and a state monitor comes in and labor contracts are suspended, that doesn't feel so good.”

Along with Nakamura, trustees John de Beck and Mitz Lee approved the layoffs. Luis Acle and Shelia Jackson opposed them. Lee, Acle and Jackson are running for re-election.

Of the 1,200 positions that will be affected by yesterday's actions, 240 will be eliminated altogether because they are vacant. Of the remaining 960 jobs, 829 are full-time, Human Resources Director Sam Wong said.

About 200 positions affected are employees who work with special-education students.

It's unclear how many people will become unemployed because many whose jobs are eliminated may use their seniority to bump others out of their jobs.

“We don't really know . . . until the very end,” Wong said. “It will be a very complicated process.”

San Diego Unified, the state's second-largest school district, operates more than 150 schools and enrolls about 133,000 students. Its operating budget is $1.2 billion.

(signonsandiego.com)

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