In the wake of colossal financial mismanagement, the leadership of Santa Rosa City Schools District wants us to believe that there is no crisis. They also want us to be assured that cuts will take place as far away from the classroom as possible.
Our school district’s history with respect to financial exigencies suggests otherwise. Don’t look for much belt-tightening at the district office. Instead, teachers will be forced into an all-too-common scenario of fighting for programs, for the students who need those programs — and, in some cases, for our very jobs.
What better way for district leaders to divert attention from the real problem — their fiscal misfeasance — than to raise the specter of lost jobs or the inevitability of increased class sizes, which will mean more work without additional compensation.
School board President Jenni Klose (“Close to Home: Santa Rosa school district’s financial challenges are not a crisis nor a surprise,” Feb. 1) blames the problem on “unfunded pension liability,” a phrase that is catnip to a public that has grown increasingly hostile to pensions and the unions that fight for them. With all due respect, this was the easy way out for Klose — and it was inaccurate.
Every other school district in Sonoma County — in all of California, for that matter — is grappling with increased pension costs. Although this new budgetary challenge has been on our collective radar for several years, our district seems to have been completely unprepared for its consequences. We’ve not heard or read about any other Sonoma County school district that is faced with so dire a predicament as ours.
It’s also important to point out that teachers have shared in the pension-funding pain. Our monthly payroll contribution has risen from 8 percent to 10.25 percent in two years. This figure takes on added significance when one considers that most California teachers won’t receive any Social Security benefits, while the small percentage of us who are eligible through previous employment or through second jobs will see those future benefits greatly reduced.
In truth, Santa Rosa City Schools’ budget shortfall is not solely the result of unfunded pension liabilities. Rather, it is because the district has too many fully-funded liabilities.
Our school district is top heavy, and it has been for years. For example, the district office has more high-salaried directors than ever before. In many cases, these positions go to former school principals who either take on newly created positions or fill redundant ones. And the district currently has at least one principal out on extended paid administrative leave. Yet key positions among classified staff have been unfilled for most of the school year, most notably in the payroll department.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen a steady parade of costly consultants who are here today and gone tomorrow, and most of us at school sites would be hard pressed to explain what they’ve accomplished or how they improved or fixed anything.
So it’s business as usual that our district has hired a “school financing expert” to oversee the mess they’ve created. Teachers assumed, of course, that we already had such experts in our employ. Alas, they departed Santa Rosa City Schools in the wake of a $3 million “human mistake” that is, in reality, closer to $4.5 million. Our school board president and superintendent have acknowledged that there were major errors in calculating substitute teacher pay. The additional shortfall is the result of inaccuracies in step and column raises for teachers that were miscalculated over a three-year period.