March 21, 2008

Budget cuts will affect all South Bay school districts

Part II

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

School districts in the South Bay have much in common: They all have a large number of English learners and most of them have a majority of Latino students.

With the proposed educational budget cuts proposed by the governor, they all face important reductions in funding, staff, programs, and teachers.

La Prensa San Diego interviewed school district superintendents in the South Bay, including Southwestern College, to learn how they will work together to face the difficult times coming up for public education in California.


Manuel Paul, superintendent of the San Ysidro School District

La Prensa San Diego: There are several new local superintendents in the South Bay. How do plan to work with them to face the budget reductions?

Paul: All south county Superintendents meet every two months to discuss our district’s issues and concerns and to try to help each other.  Each district is unique and because of that, each district has its own problems and needs.  As to budget reductions, all districts’ budgets are primarily used to pay salaries, so when it comes to cutting budgets and in large quantities like the ones now being imposed by the Governor then it only goes to reason the positions have to be eliminated because that’s where most of the funds are allocated, to salaries and employee benefits.

 La Prensa: How do you rate the relationship between your district and the other South Bay area school districts?

Paul: Very good, I feel that we have a very good working relationship with our south county districts.  We have started working particularly well with Sweetwater because we feed into their high schools and for the first time ever since I can remember we have an extraordinary well working relationship and collaboration between San Ysidro High School and our San Ysidro Middle School and Ocean View Hills School.

Lowell Billings, superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District

La Prensa: There are several new local superintendents in the South Bay. How do plan to work with them to face the budget reductions?

Billings: We communicate regularly on a number of issues. The state budget impacts all of us in one way or another. We are all hopeful the state will do its part to allow school districts flexibility in developing our education spending plans.

In the absence of a final state budget, local flexibility is crucial toward resolving funding shortfalls. Flexibility means that school districts would be allowed to carryover unspent categorical program funds from one year to the next, and be allowed to redirect categorical funds for operational expenses.

Flexibility also means allowing school districts to modify the Class Size Reduction Program (CSR) for grades K-3. We strongly support a modification to the current hard cap of 20 students, arguing that a move to a hard cap of 24 students ensures the fiscal viability of the program. Without such a modification, the fiscal viability of the CSR program is in doubt throughout much of the state and at all South County districts serving grades K-3. In CVESD alone, which is the largest K-6 district in the state, we could save approximately $6.9 million in CSR expenses by going to 24 students in the lower grades.

There is no research whatsoever that this minor modification will negatively impact students. To the contrary, this change would enable us to create additional classroom spaces to more widely implement full-day kindergarten, already found in half of our schools. This kind of logical, collaborative problem-solving can assist both the state legislature and local education communities in working through this latest state funding crisis.

La Prensa: How do you rate the relationship between your district and the other South Bay area school districts?

Billings: Relations are much improved among all of the South County school districts. There is a very dynamic team of superintendents in place. We each share a common goal of doing what is best for students. We are working closer than ever before with the secondary system, Sweetwater Union High School District, that we feed into.

Dennis Doyle, superintendent of the National School District

La Prensa: There are several new local superintendents in the South Bay. How do plan to work with them to face the budget reductions?

Doyle: As superintendents in the South County, we all meet together on a monthly basis to share information, ideas, and innovative solutions to the many issues that confront us in education. While the current state budget crisis poses many challenges, we also need to continuously look at how we can be even more efficient and cost-effective in delivering the best education we can to our students. By collaborating on a continuous basis, we don’t have to continuously re-invent the wheel and we can learn from our collective experiences. Ongoing communication is the key.

La Prensa: How do you rate the relationship between your district and the other South Bay area school districts?

Doyle: We have forged strong relationships among our districts that are focused on meeting the needs of our students. Relationships to support the goal of high academic achievement don’t just happen, they require active, sustained, ongoing, committed effort. I feel comfortable calling any of the superintendents in South County to learn, share, and brainstorm together. We have all made our staff members available to each other and we maintain active two-way communication. A focus for all of our districts is on meeting the needs of our English Learners. We are all actively sharing strategies so that we can borrow promising strategies and provide for alignment from pre-K through high school.


Carol Parish, superintendent of the South Bay Union School District

La Prensa: There are several new local superintendents in the South Bay. How do plan to work with them to face the budget reductions?

Parish: In San Diego County all 42 superintendents have met several times in the past few months to support each other and share ideas on budget.  In South Bay the superintendents from Southwestern Community College, Sweetwater High School District, Chula Vista Elementary School District, National School District, South Bay Union School District, San Ysidro School District and Coronado K-12 School District meet together every month to six weeks to discuss the important issues. We are all available to each other by phone and email any time.  I know I could call any one of my South Bay colleagues and receive advice or support. And I hope they feel the same.

La Prensa: How do you rate the relationship between your district and the other South Bay area school districts?

Parish: We have an excellent relationship.  From time to time we realize we have different points of view, different priorities and different practices, but overall we understand that we have the same goals and global interests and operate on the principles of mutual respect, openness and collaboration.

Jesus Gandara, superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District

La Prensa: There are several new local superintendents in the South Bay. How do plan to work with them to face the budget reductions?

Gandara: Every school district in California is facing the worse budget times in the history of the state. We as superintendents meet once a month and the last three meetings have had the budget on the agenda. We have been sharing what we are doing in our own districts and talking about what we can do collectively to contact our California legislators to get our message to them.

La Prensa: How do you rate the relationship between your district and the other South Bay area school districts?

Gandara: All of the superintendents in the South Bay have a great working relationship. We meet as a group once a month and I meet individually with each superintendent an additional time each month. We’re able to share best practices and provide each other with ideas to help with any situation schools are confronting. We have really focused on building stronger connections in our curriculum so that elementary students are as prepared as possible when they enter the Sweetwater school system. For example, each of our districts is focusing on addressing the academic challenges of English language learners. We are working closely together to align curriculum and ensure smooth transitions between grades.

Raj Chopra, superintendent/president of Southwestern College

La Prensa: There are several new local superintendents in the South Bay. How do plan to work with them to face the budget reductions?

Chopra: I would like to work with them individually and collectively to increase outreach efforts in their districts so parents know the benefits of attending college, specifically Southwestern. Educating parents on the different programs we have in place to help their children succeed, as well as illustrating the importance of higher education in general, is critical to ensuring more students take that important next step and attend college.

Working with National School District’s new Superintendent, Dr. Dennis Doyle, I have already made progress in this area. We arranged a “Day at College” where parents visited SWC’s Higher Education Center at National City and toured the facility. I spoke with them about what the Center had to offer and answered their questions. This face-to-face interaction proved very successful.

La Prensa: How do you rate the relationship between Southwestern College and the other South Bay area school districts?

Chopra: In the six months I have been here I would say the relationships are solid and strong but show room for improvement. With the Sweetwater Union High School District we have many successful programs in place. With the elementary districts I would say there is work that can be done. I will continue to meet with the area’s superintendents on a regular basis to identify ways to strengthen all of our relationships. Everyone has been extremely positive and open-minded to all the ideas that have been brought forward regarding collaboration amongst districts.

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