Thursday, November 15th, 2007 at 8:33 am in Schools.
More layoffs will be needed to bump salaries and benefits for teachers. So said Mt. Diablo Unified School District Superintendent Gary McHenry on Tuesday. (Read more in Shirley Dang’s article in the Times.) Initially projected to need $3.6 million in jobs cut from the budget, that number rose to $3.9 million. It’s a number that translates into 70 jobs, with the biggest hit affecting clerical and custodial positions.
To hear it tell, both bargaining sides are pointing fingers. One teacher called the move ironic because the district plans to free up money for teachers by laying off 15 of them. Mike Noce, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association questioned whether the district is negotiating in good faith. Everyone keeps wondering about the biggest number of all – almost a $40 million surplus from the district’s general fund, according to the 2007-2008 updated budget. Yes, some of that money is designated for a specific purpose based on law. But $40 million? Why so much and where is all the money going?
I wanted to know, so I tried reading the distict’s 132-page online 2007-2008 approved budget. The only thing I took away from that was a major headache.
That’s the problem with budget talks. You can read all the numbers and try to decipher the pie charts – 86 percent of certificated salaries goes to teachers, 43 percent of classified salaries goes to clerical, technical and office workers – but the bottom line is that it provides precious black-and-white answers. How much are district administrators making on average, compared to say principals and teacher? Don’t expect to see that spelled out in easy-to-read numbers. How much has the decline in student enrollment affected the bottom line of money coming in? The pie charts are there, the money per student is spelled out (and shows a true decline), but taken as a whole, the picture is too murky.
And so we, as parents, are left wondering what the real story is. I doubt we will ever truly know. Board members Paul Strange and April Treece pointed fingers at lost potential revenue from a failed effort to put a parcel tax before voters. OK, at least there the picture is pretty clear. We’ve already ventured down this road. For starters, linking salaries and benefits to a parcel tax is essentially like plugging a cork in a dam’s hole. Over time, you have no guarantees it will hold up. You can’t say for certain that when a parcel tax expires, homeowners will agree to extend it. Second, you can’t expect homeowners to buy into the idea of a parcel tax without seeing EXACTLY where you plan to spend the money. And third, we tax payers would like to know the district has the support of its teachers before blindly opening our wallets. Because right now, all of our extra money is going to various PTA and school funds – at least we have a pretty good idea where that money ends up.
So, where does that leave us? Basically, with a no-win situation. Extra money for teacher salaries and benefits has to come from somewhere. Is the district misleading folks by planning for more layoffs than are needed? Maybe. Maybe not. All we can hope is that at the end of the day, the district and bargaining groups remember why they exist – because of the students.