March 28, 2003

Commentary

Parents and Employees are Engaged in City Schools Budget Discussions

By: Ronne Froman
Chief of Business Operations
San Diego City Schools

As San Diego City Schools, along with districts across the state, confronts one of the toughest budget crises in years, collaboration will become increasingly important to preserve and continue the gains we have made in improving student achievement.

Employees as part of the process

The district is facing a potential shortfall of $150 million, or 15 percent of its $1 billion budget for the 2003-04 school year. Finding ways to reduce the budget is extremely difficult because 82 percent of the budget funds salaries and benefits. Our commitment has been to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. However, we understand that all employees touch the lives of our 140,000 students in some way, and that the budget situation requires input from every employee group across the district.

The district is working closely with employee groups, such as San Diego Education Association, California School Employees Association, Administrators Association of San Diego and the School Police Services’ Police Officers Association to collaborate on solutions to the budget shortfall. These groups met with district leadership on March 4, 5, and 6 in a series of facilitated discussions. The purpose of which was to bring together key decision-makers to discuss how the district, in collaboration with employee groups, will address the 2003-04 budget shortfall, while maintaining a quality educational environment for all students.

Prior to these meetings, all of the employee groups collaborated with the district to implement a Supplemental Early Retirement Plan. The plan is being offered to all eligible district employees thereby rewarding the long-term commitment of employees for their dedication to San Diego’s student while minimizing the number of employees who could be laid off next school year as a result of the budget situation.

Parents’ Involvement and Input Encouraged

We welcome and are actively seeking input from parents about ways to reduce costs for the 2003-2004 school year. Several parent-centered meetings have been scheduled to provide parents this opportunity. These meetings present excellent opportunities for parents to get involved and provide input. They include: District Advisory Committee on February 19 and March 5; Parent Teacher Association Council on February 20; Gifted and Talented Education Community Advisory Committee on March 10; District English Learner Advisory Committee on March 12; and Community Advisory Committee for Special Education on March 13. At each meeting, district staff present a budget overview followed by a question and answer period where finance and instructional staff will address parent questions and concerns. Parent participants at the meeting are asked to provide their feedback in a format designed by the council leadership or by using the district’s feedback form. On March 17, the chairs of each of the councils will present the input on the 2003-04 budget collected from their parent bodies to the Superintendent.

For parents unable to attend the meetings, an on line suggestion form has been created and can be found at the district’s web site at www.sandi.net/budget. Parents and community members who do not have access to the Internet, can request copies of the web site printed out at their child’s school or by contacting the district’s communications office at 619-725-5578. Other information has been prepared to assist parents in understanding the budget process including fact sheets, descriptions of the state budget cycle and presentations made to parents about the budget.

As we face an unprecedented budget crisis, we need to look for innovative ways to save money outside of the classroom. We also need to collaborate more. We have begun the process by engaging our employee groups and encouraging parent involvement and input. We have begun to see the rewards, but it is just the beginning of what we can accomplish when we work together.

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