Viewpoints

Administration, not teachers, deserves blame for school budget crisis

‘Honor the contract! Obey the law!’ Watch teachers strike at Serna Center

More than 1,500 teachers rally in front of Sacramento's Serna Center demanding the school district honor their contract, Thursday, April 11, 2019.
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More than 1,500 teachers rally in front of Sacramento's Serna Center demanding the school district honor their contract, Thursday, April 11, 2019.

As a 27-year teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District, I’m fed up with the invective Marcos Breton constantly throws at the Sacramento City Teachers Association. He claims a few self-serving union leaders are misleading teachers. This shows how little regard Breton has for teachers, who fully support their union leaders.

At SCTA, we elect our leaders, including executive board members who receive only a $100 monthly stipend for their work. The president and vice president are released to the union full-time but only receive what they are entitled to on the district’s salary schedule – far below the district’s leadership salaries.

SCTA President David Fisher is a veteran bilingual teacher of 23 years. His children attended district schools. To characterize him as the leader of a “testosterone-fueled union” that riles up its members with misinformation is insulting and inaccurate. But that’s Breton’s style. He likes to mislead.

Case in point: He says SCTA leadership now wants all teachers to receive a 3.5 percent extra raise. The raise was for mid-career teachers, as former Sacramento Bee reporter Diana Lambert accurately reported. Neither SCTA nor the district have disputed that, but it fits nicely into Breton’s anti-SCTA narrative.

Fisher is a founder of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, a national organization that dedicates itself to fostering communication between families and teachers to improve and enrich outcomes for students. When he says district leadership is disconnected from reality when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars wisely, you can believe it.

Opinion

Superintendent Jorge Aguilar receives an annual salary of over $300,000. He makes more than the vice president of the United States, all cabinet secretaries, every member of Congress and all governors. He has no prior experience as a superintendent, yet was hired him to run one of the largest districts in the state.

Breton says Aguilar inherited this mess but, in fact, he began the job when the district was in its best financial condition ever. In mid-2017, Sac City Unified had a $5 million budget surplus and a $70 million reserve. But, like past superintendents, Aguilar mismanaged the budget.

The Sacramento County Office of Education gave the district a positive certification in 2017-2018, after Aguilar signed off on SCTA’s contract. But County Superintendent of Schools David Gordon gave the district 10 days to reduce its budget by $15.6 million for the 2019-20 school year to avoid “falling into a structural deficit.”

Aguilar failed to do this. Instead, he went on a spending spree, including a vacation pay buy-out to administrators totaling $6 million. He also increased the number of central administrators despite an enrollment decline.

Breton fails to tell readers that SCTA, worried that Aguilar was leading the district toward insolvency, asked the state to undertake a forensic audit of the district’s revenue. This deep audit will show just where the district stands. Aguilar asked SCTA to delay that request. So much for transparency.

The audit begins in May. We all need to know what happened so we can fix the problem.

For all the criticism thrown at SCTA Executive Director John Borsos, he and SCTA’s board members are the only ones to craft a comprehensive solution to our budget crisis. The district has yet to offer any full solution.

If the district doesn’t like Borsos, it’s because he’s no-nonsense. He knows numbers, and the district’s don’t add up.

The Sacramento County Office of Education has rejected the district’s budget twice. The state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team examined the district’s mismanagement. They asked two key questions: Does the district have a superintendent and chief business official who has been with the district more than two years? Is training on financial management and budget offered to site and department administrators who are responsible for budget management?

The answer to both is: no.

Borsos is right to call the district on its fiscal mismanagement. He’s doing what the Board of Education should have done from the beginning.

Teachers launched a one-day strike on April 11 to call attention to the problems the district continually ignores – and to make it clear that we expect Aguilar and the school board to honor our contract and obey the law.

Erik Knudson is a teacher in Sacramento
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