Education

Sacramento City Unified outlines cuts – but district scrambling to fix budget crisis

Here’s what a state takeover would mean at Sacramento City Unified

Michael Fine from the state's financial crisis team and David Gordon from the county office of education address the Sacramento City Unified School Board on cutting costs in their district on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 in Sacramento.
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Michael Fine from the state's financial crisis team and David Gordon from the county office of education address the Sacramento City Unified School Board on cutting costs in their district on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 in Sacramento.

The Sacramento City Unified School District, mired in a deep budget hole, outlined some cuts but again declared itself unable to meet its financial obligations as it faces an imminent state takeover.

Still grappling with a $35 million budget gap, the school board announced 33 administrative job cuts at its meeting Thursday night, and also discussed a plan detailing other ways to save money. But it gave itself another negative certification, meaning it cannot meet its financial obligations this year or following years, according to district officials.

The district was already negatively certified as it approaches its deadline to fill the budget gap. Its spending plan was disapproved twice last year and it has until June 30 to come up with a plan to remain solvent.

If proposed cuts cannot be met soon, it will need to request an emergency loan from the state, which will trigger a takeover by an administrator appointed by the Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools.

In Thursday’s meeting, officials attributed some of the issues to continued low enrollment – which will steadily decline by 1,000 students over the next year, according to the district.

Sacramento City Unified passed a resolution Thursday in an attempt to the “save our schools.” The plan includes freezing salaries, controlling administrator costs, monitoring vacation time and prohibiting accrual over time, and working with its labor unions to rebalance employee health benefits.

The district says its employee benefits are not comparable to other area districts, as it has long provided free health benefits to its employees and their families.

The board approved issuing hundreds of notices of potential layoffs, including 150 teachers. It is unclear how many of those notices will translate into actual layoffs at the end of the school year.

Several teachers and employees aired their concerns over the plan and the uncertainties they face

Patricia Payan, one of 18 classified staff members at risk of losing her job at a fee-based child care program, was joined by colleagues concerned about what the layoffs would mean for them and the district’s after-school programs. The district has six child care centers with multiple staff members, many of whom asked the board if the facilities will face closure, and when.

The district approved the motion to lay off classified employees, along with teachers, who will receive notices starting March 15.

“It is completely unacceptable to lay off teachers who give direct services to students, to cut child development services for our poorest kids,” said Sacramento City Teachers Association Vice President Nikki Milevsky.

The district also voted to make additional reductions to central office administration, cutting 33 administrative positions, in addition to $1 million in previous reductions. The decision cut the district’s expenditure on administration to about 4 percent of the total general fund, which is significantly lower than other area school districts, according to spokesman Alex Barrios.

Earlier Thursday, four of the district’s five unions held a press conference to announce a new initiative called Save Sac Schools.

Richard Owen, executive director of United Professional Educators in Sacramento, said that while much of the blame is on district leadership, the labor partners need to work together to find a solution.

“We insist on re-engineering how labor and management construct their relationships, thereby creating a new dynamic within the district that leads to increased prosperity for all,” Owen said.

Owen and several speakers alluded to the concern that a state takeover would disproportionately impact students of color and students of lower socioeconomic status, particularly since students with resources and opportunity may choose to leave the district.

Owen also estimated that more than 400 employees would be laid off in a state takeover, among many other consequences a district is likely to face during a state takeover, which typically lasts about a decade.

“Based on what we know about other districts and people that have gone this particular route, this is pure folly,” Owen said.

The district and teachers union are locked in contentious negotiations over their salary agreement. Arbitration was set to begin Friday.

Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
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