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High school district approves raises for leadership, management positions

After certificated San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) employees received a 12.5 percent raise at the end of 2015, the school board followed suit and approved the same raises for non-represented employee groups at its Jan. 14 meeting. The non-represented employee group includes Superintendent Rick Schmitt and the four assistant superintendents as well as management, confidential and supervisory employees, a total of 54 positions.

The salary increase of 7 percent for 2015-16 and 5.5 percent for 2016-17 was approved in a 3-2 vote. Trustees John Salazar and Mo Muir voted against the raises, expressing serious concerns about their affordability.

The salary increases represent a cost of $420,000 in the first year and $380,000 in the second year. Trustee Amy Herman said she understood what an important decision and vote this was and said she spent a lot of time thinking about it, asking questions and losing a bit of sleep over it to ensure she was making the best decision for the community.

“I realize that this is a lot of money and I want to make sure we’re spending it wisely so the district can continue to thrive,” Herman said.

Herman said she considered if the district could afford it, whether it was fair and equitable and how it would impact students. She wanted to make sure that it would not increase class sizes or impact the ability to add or enhance programs and she was re-assured that was the case.

“I believe we can afford this raise,” Herman said. “By giving them this increased compensation we’re showing them that we value their commitment and expertise and we will hopefully ensure stability to our district by retaining them.”

SDUHSD Board Vice President Joyce Dalessandro said since she has been on the school board, the district has always been committed to being fiscally conservative and exercising responsible use of its funding.

Dalessandro said the district went into the last recession with a healthy reserve and was able to stay the course without cutting programs or handing out “pink slips by the fistful” as other districts had to do. With planning and careful budgeting she said they arrived on the other side of the recession even healthier through, thanks to the leadership, collaboration, dedication of its staff.

“We expect a great deal of our San Dieguito team, they work very hard and they deliver.

Standards and expectations are high and they deliver,” Dalessandro said. “They are really good at their jobs, experts in their fields and we, as an entire community, are very fortunate to have such a talented and effective team and they deserve the very best that we can afford to give them.”

The crowd of teachers who were there to support the staff erupted into applause at both Herman and Dalessandro’s comments.

“Well, I have some things to say and I don’t think you will all are going to want to applaud as much,” trustee Salazar said, prefacing his comments.

Salazar said he wanted everyone to understand that Superintendent Rick Schmitt signed a three-year contract in which he agreed to work for the salary in the contract. Despite the agreement, just a few months ago the board voted to add another year to his contract before it was up. He said he didn’t think it was fiscally responsible to be giving Schmitt a raise and said it wasn’t “prudent or good business” to add a year to a contract every year.

“The district and the taxpayers had a deal and I’d like to just live up to my deal,” Salazar said.

Hergesheimer said that Schmitt did not ask to extend his contract, that it came from her as the president of the board.

“(Contract extensions have) been practice. It’s actually been quite accepted and recommended that in order to show a vote of confidence, which I have in our staff and our leadership, that we extend contracts,” Hergesheimer said.

Salazar stated that it’s not just him that has concerns about fiscal reliability of the district, referencing a comment from Governor Jerry Brown last week that the state is overdue for another recession— Brown said although the treasury is overflowing now the state could face a $43 million deficit by 2019-20.

Salazar said Brown also stated that he is not going to support the extension of Proposition 30, which pays billions of dollars into education. Prop 30 is due to expire in 2018.

“Look, I didn’t run for school board so that I could be the bad person who didn’t give people raises,” Salazar said. “I’m just saying, we gave the teachers an enormous raise. We don’t have enough money…our reserves are going down.”

Salazar said he is concerned about an estimate that reserves will be at 10 percent in two years and that’s before the raises that were voted on last month and Jan. 14.

“Our reserves will just barely be above the state minimum. And maybe nothing will happen. Maybe everything will be fantastic, rainbows do happen. If a recession happens we’re going to see two things happen. I think we’re going to see teacher layoffs and we’re going to see class sizes explode, there’s no other way to do it,” Salazar said. “Those are my concerns. It’s not that I’m being mean or unfair or don’t respect or don’t care — I feel like Superintendent Schmitt has a contract and I believe everybody else that’s in the managerial positions have a salary that we can afford to pay at this time.”

Hergesheimer said she has also asked questions about reserves and she believes they will be in the teens (10 percent and up), and that’s being conservative.

As Schmitt noted, the multi-year budget projections are unofficial at this time and will be revised in early February. With growth in state revenue and increased enrollment, Schmitt said they expect to see their funding increase from the state. He said that the district is in a “healthy and stable” position and is maintaining a healthy level of reserves, some of the highest in the district’s history.

“Even if we have an economic slowdown we have a team in place that knows how to navigate any downturn,” Schmitt said, noting that during the last recession reserves dipped to 6 percent and the district was able to weather the storm without any layoffs.

“I believe that the reserves are in a good place,” Hergesheimer said. “I have concerns about the reality now, about economic indicators that our staff and employees all have to live with in terms of what their cost of living and their reality is. Having had no raises for the length of time that they’ve had, it’s time for us to do some catch-up here.”