California Forum

Sacramento City Unified School District superintendent deserves blame for budget mess

Four weeks into this new school year, more than 100 teaching vacancies remain unfilled. Thousands of Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) students are in classrooms without fully credentialed educators. At C.K. McClatchy High School, one government teacher surveyed her class and found that more than half of her students had a temporary substitute teacher for some of their classes.

How did we get into such a mess?

In February, SCUSD somehow failed to count 730 students in its enrollment figures – which could have been an $8 million per year mistake. Incredibly, District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and the county administrator charged with overseeing the district’s finances confirmed the error on April 1, but hid this information from the public. Nevertheless, SCUSD plowed ahead in May with layoffs.

While the district reports substantially lower numbers, we know that more than 400 staff were laid off – including 175 certificated teachers – making SCUSD the only major school district in California to implement mass layoffs during a national teacher shortage.

Now the district can’t fill positions. Would you want to work in a school district that lays off dynamic young educators based on dodgy budget numbers?

Opinion

In March, a top state education finance official, Michael Fine, said he has “no confidence” in the district’s financial data and that he has other serious concerns. District leaders also kept this information from the public and even from members of the school board.

In the face of poorly staffed classrooms, improper budgets and “no confidence” from state officials, what’s the path forward for Sacramento public schools?

Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Bretón thinks he has the answer: He says teachers should sit down and shut up. Breton believes the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA), which represents district educators, should accept whatever the school board demands. He maintains teachers should agree to set aside the collective bargaining agreement, a contract that was personally negotiated by the superintendent with union representatives and unanimously approved by the school board.

Bretón also says teachers and others who care about our schools should stop organizing, stop talking and stop holding our elected school board accountable.

You are wrong, Mr. Bretón. This situation is too critical to stay silent and, as education activists, we won’t apologize for robustly advocating on behalf of our students and families.

Bretón also makes the absurd claim that everyone in Sacramento should feel grateful that the superintendent has moved to live in Sacramento rather than close to his parents in Fresno. Many teachers have made far greater sacrifices to teach in Sac City, joining thousands of our students who have come from around the world to seek better opportunities here in Sacramento. And we have done it without the superintendent’s financial reward of a $319,233 in annual salary, 52 percent more than Gov. Gavin Newsom.

After a phony budget crisis was used to justify unnecessary layoffs, it was apparent that the district would face mass vacancies when school started in late August. This is a lesson in how not to run a school district.

Nikki OK Picture.jpg
Nikki Milevsky

Unlike Bretón, teachers have offered real solutions. SCTA has suggested around-the-clock talks to address the staffing crisis and other substantive proposals that would keep any cuts away from the district’s classrooms.

While SCUSD flounders, teachers are working to solve problems. In November 2017, SCTA reached a signed, enforceable agreement with SCUSD to reduce employee health care costs – one of the district’s biggest expenses – with the caveat that those savings be redirected into Sac City classrooms.

Bretón has no problem with SCUSD’s illegal effort to nullify this binding collective bargaining agreement, which is designed to lower class sizes and increase professional support staff, including school nurses and psychologists. Neither he nor the district administrators detail how those dollars would be better spent.

As a school psychologist, I understand that bullying is when someone in a position of power uses his power to intimidate those who may be vulnerable.

Without irony, Bretón accuses Sac City educators and our union of bullying. Standing up for our students is not bullying – it is our responsibility. And we will not allow Mr. Bretón or district leaders to bully us into silence. Our students are too important.

Nikki Milevsky is a school psychologist, parent of two students in the district and first vice president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association.
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