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SDUHSD approves 2016-17 budget, vote not unanimous

The San Dieguito Union High School District board approved its 2016-17 budget in a contentious 3-2 vote on June 30. Trustees Mo Muir and John Salazar voted against it.

The budget includes a projected $129 million in revenue and $136 million in expenditures, a deficit of $6.7 million. The budget meets the board’s recommended 4.5 percent level of reserve funds, with an end balance of $13 million.

The budget reflects an increase in revenue due to an estimated increase in property tax of 5 percent and an increase in state funding under the Local Control Funding Formula. Expenditures are up overall due to the 5.5 percent salary increases approved for all employees, additional staffing at Pacific Trails Middle School and an increase in counselors, psychologists and social workers.

Despite the 3-2 vote, trustee Amy Herman said she appreciated how many of the board’s suggestions were added to the budget this year, such as more class options and sections at Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon, more counselors and more campus security.

“I’m proud of the work this team did,” Superintendent Rick Schmitt said. “Everything you all asked for we were able to deliver and I’m proud of that. This team made it happen and some of it was daunting…There’s so many good things in that budget that I think will benefit the kids.”

Salazar’s concerns were related to the district’s reserve level dropping from $19 million to $13 million and that with 82 percent of the budget going to salaries and benefits, it leaves very little to cut should the district need to.

“The main reason I voted ‘no’ on the budget is that with a nearly $7 million projected deficit we are quickly spending our reserve funds. If the district does not get the future retirements of teachers it is hoping for (and replacing them with new hires at lower salaries), we will have no other option then but to cut staff which would raise class sizes,” Salazar stated. “I just do not believe this budget is in the best interest of our students or taxpayers.”

Schmitt said there will be years when the district spends more than it collects and even during the hardest times, when its reserves were as low as 6 percent, the district was able to deliver and keep all of its programs alive without cutting staff or disrupting student performance. He said the district was able to manage and reduce its costs by doing things like not hiring new people and not considering raises.

Salazar questioned how it will work for the district to not consider raises with the language in the teachers’ contract that states SDUHSD teachers must be number one in the county.

“Wouldn’t we be required to give everybody a raise if another district pays more?” Salazar asked.

Schmitt said it’s not a requirement at all and that particular clause has been in the contract for many years — in 2012, SDUHSD wasn’t number one but there wasn’t a demand for salary increases which he attributes to the district’s ability to communicate and negotiate with teachers.

“Anything contractual is negotiable,” he said.

For Muir, her reason not to support the budget was due to her belief that class sizes will be increased due to the language in the teacher contracts. Muir said many teachers have contacted her and told her the class sizes are too full.

“You’ve mentioned that in public numerous times and you’ve been corrected numerous times. You are wrong,” Schmitt said. “We are not increasing, the contract has nothing to do with that. We are actually the healthiest in class size we’ve been in a decade. We’ve actually reduced class sizes.

“It’s been explained to you multiple times. You’re wrong, you’re reading (the contract) wrong, no one else reads it that way,” he said.

“Pretty much everybody who’s looked at the contract besides you has said that,” Muir said.

“I’m not going to argue with you other than to point out that we have not raised class sizes, the record shows that,” Schmitt said. “We believe we’re in great shape. The teachers believe we’re healthy in class size, the parents haven’t complained about it, the kids are thriving.”

Muir remained unconvinced and said they would have to agree to disagree.

After the 3-2 vote, Herman asked Associate Superintendent of Business Services and soon-to-be Interim Superintendent Eric Dill what would happen if the majority of the board voted against the budget. Dill said if it didn’t happen on June 30, the end of the district’s fiscal year, the district would be cut off from its financial system.

“That’s just one item, just one area that you disagree with, so you would vote against the entire budget and basically shut down our district on that one item?’ Herman asked Muir.

“The most important thing in this district is low class sizes,” Muir stated.

Herman, SDUHSD Vice President Joyce Dalessandro and SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer all expressed disagreement with Muir’s statement: “The most important thing is to serve our students,” Hergesheimer said.

“Teachers, curriculum, I mean we could go on forever. You can’t say that’s the most important thing, besides which, it isn’t increasing,” Dalessandro said.

Muir stated that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

Several parents in attendance also spoke out about the district’s addition of social workers next year. As outlined in the district’s Local Control Accountability Plan, the district proposes to add a new site social worker role at all of the high school campuses to help support the counselors. They will also add three mental health providers, each of whom will come with two to three interns to assist. The new social worker and mental health support provider job descriptions were approved by the board at the June 30 meeting.

Earl Warren parent Louisa Triandis, an adjunct lecturer in social work at the University of Southern California, said she has seen a real need for more mental health support for students and complimented the district on an excellent plan. San Dieguito High School Academy parent Pamella Franzwa, a social worker who is also a clinical associate professor at USC, also spoke in support of social workers that are uniquely trained to look at the person and the environment and could help bridge the gulf that can happen between the child and the school.

She said the new role will serve a “critical function in students’ social and emotional development.”

“These days, all kids have a rough go of it and anything you can do to help them to navigate appropriately and get a handle on the feelings and all the stressors that they have now will lead to them becoming more productive members of society and they can be the best they can be,” said Mary Turk, a Torrey Pines parent. “I see a huge benefit and applaud you for having the wisdom to address this issue.”