Teachers, parents and community members put on a small protest before the San Dieguito Union High School District board meeting on July 14, calling out trustees Mo Muir and John Salazar for voting against the budget for the next school year.
Bob Croft, San Dieguito Faculty Association president, led the “informational, peaceful, lawful picketing” on the sidewalk in front of the district office on Encinitas Boulevard. Posters read that Salazar and Muir fail to understand critical district issues, voted against fiscal solvency and have “undermined and driven out” key district leadership.
“It is dangerous, irresponsible leadership,” Croft said. “We’re concerned that their actions are harmful to the district, and it’s about time they are exposed to the greater community.”
With an election upcoming, Croft said it is even more imperative to inform the community about Muir’s and Salazar’s actions. He said many voters are not connected to the schools and often vote by their political party’s recommendations. Two seats will be up for grabs in November — SDUHSD Board President Beth Hergesheimer’s and Vice President Joyce Dalessandro’s — and Croft said if Muir and Salazar get an ally on the board and no votes become the majority, “It will be too late.”
Croft said putting aside the “no” vote on the 5.5 percent salary increases this year, Salazar and Muir have also voted against “fantastic” Prop AA projects that benefit students and schools, such as adding a new building at Canyon Crest Academy that will help the school deal with capacity issues.
Croft said Salazar often says his decisions are based on supporting taxpayers, but Croft said it should be noted that taxpayers supported Prop AA and have welcomed projects such as new science classrooms at Torrey Pines High School.
“To delay construction is defying the will of the taxpayers,” Croft said. “They’re doing a disservice to this district.”
Salazar was not present at the May 12 board meeting in which the guaranteed maximum price was voted on for the CCA building, but Muir did vote against it. In November 2015, Salazar and Muir did vote against the Torrey Pines classrooms due to the construction company’s contribution to the Prop AA campaign. In March 2015, Muir voted against the second issuance of the Prop AA bonds because she said she did not agree with the bond’s structure.
Both voted against the increase in salaries.
In response to the protestors questioning his vote against the 2016-17 budget, Salazar said he would make his “very sane” “no” vote on the budget again if he was given the opportunity.
“I am actually very glad that the organized union boss and his members came out and protested my and Mrs. Muir’s ‘no’ vote on the budget because it shines a light on the fact that we have an unsustainable school budget,” Salazar said in a statement. “We are nearly $7 million in the red, and in two years (unless we change course) our district will be bankrupt.”
He said his fellow board members who voted for raises did not recognize that the district did not have the funds to pay for them.
“Organized labor only care about themselves (those that pay union dues) and not the students or the taxpayers,” Salazar said. “I represent everyone in our district and will be voting ‘no’ again on any similar deficit budget. I hope the voters pay attention this November and only support a candidate who supports a balanced budget.”
In response to Salazar’s comments, President Beth Hergesheimer said San Dieguito has been “very conservative” in our budget calculations.
“It is our job to actually spend available funds providing district students with an education in safe, modern facilities. Some years we spend more than our current revenue, but we are prepared to do that because we have solid reserves from prior year revenues,” Hergesheimer said. “Current multi-year projections show the district with approximately $9 million in reserves in two years, over double the required state minimum reserves. We fully expect those reserves to be even better than projected.”
Some from the protest attended the board meeting, although they did not bring in the signs. Protester Tim Staycer, a Torrey Pines High School teacher, spoke up during public comment about Muir’s “inaccurate rhetoric” misrepresenting class size averages increasing. He said despite her being corrected and given accurate information, she continued to use increased class sizes as her justification to vote against the budget.
“It is shameful that Muir continues to shirk her responsibility to be an informed school board member and that she continues to misrepresent such important information,” Staycer said.“Had that irresponsible, misinformed vote carried the day, it literally would have resulted in shutting down the district financially. Both Muir and Salazar should be ashamed for their willingness to hurt the district in this manner.”
The board members remained silent after his comments as they are not allowed to engage in discussion during public comment.
“It’s unfortunate that the teacher’s union is speaking out against fiscal responsibility and sustainable best management practices,” Muir said in a statement after the meeting. “It appears that they don’t understand that deficit spending is not a prudent or responsible way to prepare a budget. I couldn’t support a plan or budget that doesn’t adequately address the district’s significant financial shortfall, while increasing class size.”
While district staff have reiterated that class sizes will not increase and are at historically low levels, Muir said that the verbiage of class size in the teachers’ contract changed from a “maximum” of 38 students to an “average” of 38 students, and her interpretation is that there is a big difference between those two words.
“I’m not, nor have I ever been, a rubber-stamp board member. I don’t believe the board majority has ever voted against the teachers or staff,” Muir said. “Although I respect the teachers, I believe it’s my job to ask the tough questions and find real solutions to real challenges that face the district.”