—By Shane Parmely, CTA Delegate-elect
First, let’s get this out of the way… Everyone loves Cindy Marten. I’ve talked with a whooooole lot of people that have known and worked with Cindy Marten and not a single one has anything bad to say about her. Cindy Marten is a dedicated educator and, from everything I have heard, she was an excellent principal. But this should not give her a free pass on the decisions she makes as our new Superintendent. So with that in mind, the purpose of this piece is to analyze the first major decision Cindy Marten is making as our new Superintendent: Creating $725,318 worth of new Central Office administrative positions before the District has made one single restoration to cuts that directly impact the classroom.
This week, SDEA sent out an Action Alert email regarding two important pieces of information: 1) SDUSD had sent a letter to SDEA telling them that the District would not be paying for BTSA next year. 2) Marten’s proposed reorganization of Ed Center administrators will cost an additional $725,318. So CTA Delegate-elect Emily Neidhart, SDEA Secretary Michelle Sanchez, and I attended the SDUSD Board meeting on June 18 to share our thoughts on the matter. You can click our names to watch our videos: Emily, Michelle and Shane.
There was one piece of good news: the SDUSD Board and Marten both repeatedly walked back the idea that new teachers would have to pay for BTSA. (Scott Barnett even said the letter was sent in error at one point. Really? Glad to see everyone change their tune on that one.)
But the School Board still voted to approve Marten’s District reorganization plan, including $725,318 in new Central Office administrators. While Marten presented her vision for how she would like to reorganize our District leadership, she claimed that literally overnight, the District had found roughly half a million dollars to offset the cost. Then Deputy Superintendent of Business Phil Stover assured everyone he would easily be able to find the rest by scrubbing the budget. Yeah, I bet.
These sorts of last-minute discoveries are exactly why none of us should ever take the District’s claims about their budget at face value. Careful analysis of the Board meeting discussion reveals this to be more of the District’s usual financial smoke and mirrors. You can watch the video HERE and HERE.
To explain the overnight “discovery” of $500,000 in savings, Marten first explained that she had “abolished” three positions and replaced them with two new top-tier, six-figured positions:
1) Assistant Superintendent of Quality Neighborhood Schools to replace the Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Support Services. Sid Salazar will be getting a new job title and a $31,264 (23.3%) increase in his compensation
2) Executive Director of Teaching and Learning to replace the Director of Student Programs and Professional Learning. Theresa Walter will be receiving a $21,104 (16.8%) increase over the position being replaced.
3) Abolish an Area Superintendent position.
Marten was particularly proud that this would save the District $87K. But I wonder… how big of a staff and expense budget will these positions have? This is not mentioned anywhere in the calculation. Plus, the reorg creates a total of eight new positions. The reductions from abolishing three positions merely brings the total cost down to $725,318 — but it’s still an additional $725,318. To see the District’s own fiscal breakdown of the reorg chart for yourself, click HERE.
Secondly, Marten explained how making quality schools requires good leadership. To do this, she created three new positions “to support principal leaders and leadership across the whole system” for a total cost of $400K. To offset the cost of these new admin positions, she identified “savings” in contracts that the District “was” outsourcing. And here’s where I noticed that her verb tense started to change. These outsourced contracts aren’t contracts that we are already paying for. They aren’t even contracts that have already been approved. They are “proposed” contracts, as in money that we aren’t actually spending yet. She explained that she had identified a proposed $250K contract and a proposed $120K contract to cancel, however, this still doesn’t add up to the $494K they are claiming to have found. Sounds like those $400K in contracts were not necessary and should not have been approved anyway, freeing those funds to, say, restore furlough days or raises or classified staff positions and hours. (Is a half-time library tech at every school really too expensive to fund?)
Here are Marten’s exact words: “If you add in here where I identified the savings and eliminated the outsourcing and will not approve those contracts, instead use those dollars that were out-sourced to insource, you’ll see that there’s only a $231K request for this full reorganization to be able to put teaching and learning at the heart and have leadership development be at the core, and insource instead of outsource the way that we support our children and our classrooms.”
No, Cindy, I don’t see that this reorg is really only a $231K request. I see that you’re counting the cancelation of contracts we didn’t need to approve anyway to justify ballooning our already over-bloated ratio of administrators. I see more captains and less crew to row our ship through rough waters. Usually the point of a reorg is to downsize; to save money while streamlining operations. But the only time SDUSD ever does that is when it’s cutting school sites to the bone.
Current Superintendent Bill Kowba then shared that they were going to use $129K in restricted funds to cover part of this which left a $102K impact on our unrestricted general fund. Trustees John Lee Evans and Kevin Beiser chimed in, applauding the notion that more funds could and should be found to make the reorg “cost neutral.” Stover couldn’t even keep a straight face when he said that he was “confident that given a few days, to scrub, to scour one more time that we’ll be able to get that down to zero.” So as usual, if the big wigs want something expensive, suddenly a general fund money tree exists and can be shaken to find the cash to cover the cost.
No matter how convincing Cindy and the Board may sound while explaining that this reorg will be cost neutral, the fact remains: SDUSD will be spending $725,318 more on Central Office administrators next year, instead of using that money to avoid layoffs or reinstate our salaries, furlough days, or “abolished” school site positions. At the end of the day, that’s the amount of money that the Board approved. Ask yourself, if you could spend $725,318 on our District, would you hire additional administrators?!
But wait — it gets better. This coming Tuesday, the School Board will be voting to pay an additional $100,000 to Larry Schoenke. If you recognize that name, it’s because Schoenke is the the District’s Chief Legal Counsel who, according to SDEA leadership, was just forced into early retirement. He was the chief architect of the District’s across-the-board refusal to arbitrate many of SDEA’s grievances this past year, and is largely responsible for reducing the amount of nurses and counselors in our District down to levels that are literally dangerous for our students. And now the District wants to pay him another $100,000 post-retirement? On top of the fully staffed Legal Department who already got raises this year?
The District is playing its usual shell game of pulling money out of a hat when it comes to funding their administrative priorities, and then turning around and crying poverty when it comes to their employees’ paychecks. Even I started to fall for it as I listened to their explanations. Especially since the District back-peddled their BTSA cuts. But when you actually look at the numbers in black and white, you can see that they’re still going back to old habits of spending money on everyone and everything but educators’ salaries. Can we please stop falling for it?