Education

Calling deficit a ‘fiasco,’ Sac City teachers union proposes slashing district staff’s pay

Sac City Unified officials respond to budget rejection

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and school board President Jessie Ryan address the rejection of the district's budget by the Sacramento County Office of Education.
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Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and school board President Jessie Ryan address the rejection of the district's budget by the Sacramento County Office of Education.

A proposal written by the Sacramento City Teachers Association in response to the Sacramento City Unified School District’s unprecedented budget disapproval for 2018-19 labels the situation a “fiasco,” recommends deep cuts to the district’s administrative staff and calls for the resignation of three district board members from their budget committee positions.

SCTA was one of several labor unions that met with Sacramento City Unified and county Board of Education officials Thursday afternoon, as the teachers association formally proposed changes it says would save at least $16.5 million annually, as seen in a written copy received by The Bee on Friday.

The district has until Oct. 8 to submit a revised, satisfactory budget, as mandated by the county, to address $24 million in deficit spending in the $555 million budget. The 2018-19 budget was disapproved by the county Board of Education due to the deficit, with the disapproval announced publicly at a Sept. 6 school board meeting.

The union’s proposal – titled “SCTA Proposal To Address SCUSD Budget Fiasco” – primarily recommends reducing the number of full-time positions at the district’s administrative office from the 2018-19 level of 271 to the 2014-15 level, 190 employees.

This cut of 81 administrators would save $16 million in salary and benefits, SCTA’s proposal says. The number of administrators his risen from 190 to 271 while average daily attendance has remained virtually the same across the district since 2014, the letter says.

The remaining nearly $500,000 in cuts would come from “reining in escalating administrator salaries.” SCTA’s proposal asks for Superintendent Jorge Aguilar’s current salary of $305,950 to be reduced to $190,100, the amount Gov. Jerry Brown makes.

“We’re suggesting that he make no more than the governor of California,” SCTA President David Fisher said. “District administration should lead by example and cut from the top.”

Further recommendations include imposing a $150,000 cap on the 11 administrative positions exceeding this salary, defining it as “roughly 2 times the average certificated teacher salary.”

District spokesman Alex Barrios said Friday that Sacramento City Unified could not start to consider SCTA’s proposal or any other budget solution until the budget numbers are further reviewed and interpreted under the direction of a county-appointed independent financial adviser. This adviser was assigned by the county to the district to address the budget situation; she started working with the district Monday.

“We’re not jumping right into any solution without fully doing our due diligence to assess the situation,” Barrios said. “That’s what she told us ... This is what an independent financial review, and having an adviser, is for. This is why we have a process. So when someone comes to the table with a suggestion for a budget or money ideas, it can be reviewed by an independent party.”

However, the district spokesman suggested compensation cuts are inevitable.

“Well over 81 percent of our budget is compensation for employees,” Barrios said, “so we’re going to be looking closely at that with the independent financial adviser and finding out what our cost savings are there.”

Barrios described the ongoing budget revision as a three-step process: first, reviewing the numbers to ensure they are accurate and clear; second, determining the total number of cuts required; and third, reviewing “viable options” to get to that number. He said the financial adviser and all involved parties were still in the first step as of Friday.

County Superintendent David Gordon informed Aguilar in an Aug. 22 letter that the budget had been disapproved. In it, Gordon wrote that he had aired concerns about the budget in three previous letters, dated between Dec. 7 and April 26.

“We tried to warn them over and over and over,” Gordon said in a Sept. 7 interview with The Bee.

The December letter by the county explicitly mentions the deal struck last November between the district and SCTA, which allowed for up to an 11 percent raise for teachers, as an area of concern. Gordon wrote that the three-year agreement with SCTA – allowing for compensation boosts of $4.8 million in 2016-17, $6.2 million in 2017-18 and $14 million in 2018-19 – prompted worry about the fiscal impact of the union deal down the road.

Fisher pointed out Friday that the district agreed to increase compensation last November in a deal designed to prevent further “exodus of teachers around mid-career,” which he said constituted a crisis in 2015-16.

An FAQ page visible on the district’s website includes the question: “Was the budget deficit caused by the district’s recent labor contract agreements?”

“Not by itself,” the FAQ answer reads. “A series of salary increases reached with multiple associations increased the district’s expenses by over $30 million. The district must identify cost savings in other areas or increase revenues in order to cover these costs in future years.”

The deal reached last November averted a teacher strike among the union’s then-2,800 members. A negotiation, brokered with assistance from Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, came two days before the planned strike.

Fisher expressed confusion; last week’s school board meeting was the first the SCTA had heard about the budget situation, he said.

“We still are perplexed,” Fisher said Friday. “They continually submitted budgets that showed they have plenty in the reserves. The county seems to have approved them and got positive certifications ... We still have the same question: ‘Why did the superintendent (Aguilar) keep signing off on budgets?’ At the end of the day, nobody’s taken responsibility at the district for oversight.”

The proposal calls for school board members Jay Hansen, Michael Minnick and Darrel Woo to resign their budget committee positions; however, Woo has informed The Bee that he was mistakenly named in the proposal, as he has not served on the budget committee this year. Board president Jessie Ryan is the correct third member of the committee.

Hansen, currently the chair of that committee, has announced he does not plan to run for re-election to his school board seat, according to SCTA news reports, meaning he’ll be replaced by voters in November.

“I would be happy to resign as the budget committee chair if SCTA would bring in honest leaders that put students first instead of themselves,” Hansen said.

Hansen was critical of leadership at SCTA, saying “they’re just not honest brokers.”

“My biggest disappointment as a school board member is our relationship with them,” Hansen said. “Other districts have much better relationships (with their unions). Their leadership is broken.”

Hansen said that among five labor unions that work with Sacramento City Unified, SCTA is the only one that does does not attend school board meetings.

“Boycotting meetings isn’t a way to get work done,” he said.

Minnick declined to comment, referring questions to Barrios, and Ryan has not yet commented regarding SCTA’s call for resignation from the budget committee. Board members serve four-year terms; neither Minnick nor Ryan are up for re-election this year.

Aguilar could not be immediately reached for comment.

SCTA also recommends in its letter that the union be allowed to assign a representative to the budget committee.

In a section of the proposal titled “Additional Potential Savings,” SCTA lists 17 other budget items “that warrant further exploration for additional savings” or more details from the district. These include legal counsel, business services, human resources, long term leave and direct services, and add up to more than $35 million of the $555 million budget.

Barrios said all the district’s labor parties, including SEIU and Teamsters, were present at Thursday afternoon’s meeting.

“Collaboration is the most important part of this project,” Barrios said.

Sacramento City Unified set up a website last week dedicated to the budget revision process. Students’ families and other stakeholders are invited to submit questions to the district. Barrios said the website had received about 30 questions in the past two days or so.

“Most of the questions are ‘What are we going to cut?’” Barrios said. “The other one that’s most common is, ‘How did this happen?’”

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