Teachers and other staffers in the San Diego Unified School District were spared from the usual cycle of layoffs this year after the Board of Education pledged to balance its budget using savings from employee attrition and proceeds from real estate sales.
The estimated $88 million shortfall going into the 2013-14 academic year could have meant layoffs for hundreds of employees, but financial staff said that deficit could be offset by selling property, including the former MacMullen and Stevenson elementary school sites, and eliminating some of the about 600 positions vacated through attrition.
The board planned to use the real estate proceeds, expected to be about $97.7 million, as part of a three-year plan to keep its budget balanced until funding from the voter-approved Proposition 30 tax increase fully materialized. The plan also included eliminating structural deficits and building up reserves by the 2015-16 fiscal year.
District financial staff said that increased funding stemming from the tax hike, which included a $30 million boost for the state's second largest school district, would eventually take the pressure off the state to cut education costs.
Some of the state funding was also earmarked to restore concessions, like deferred raises and furloughs, district employees made to counter a substantial deficit in past years.
"During the past couple school years we have had to reduce the school year by five days due to budget constraints, and this year we're back on the path of having a full school year," Trustee John Lee Evans said.
The district has previously balanced its budget one year at a time, but also following the passage of Proposition 30, district officials said they could start developing budget plans three years at a time.
"While adjustments will have to be made each year prior to budget adoption, a three-year plan will bring stability to our schools and allow staff to focus on our most important bottom line, which is student achievement," Evans said then.
District officials also began building, rehabilitation and repair projects funded with the first issuance of a voter-approved $2.8 billion general obligation bond.
Also in 2013, Superintendent Bill Kowba, a retired Navy rear admiral, announced he was stepping down after his three-year contract with the district ended.
One day later, Central Elementary School Principal Cindy Marten was named his successor. During her time at Central, students' academic performance scores rose dramatically, a campus health center was established, as was day care center for the children of employees.
Evans said following her non-traditional selection, San Diego Unified would have a stronger instructional focus as finances gradually improved.
"In our selection of a new superintendent we wanted an educator who is a visionary leader," Evans said. "We have found such a person in our own district -- Cindy Marten, an educator for 25 years who started off as a teacher then became principal of one of our most challenging schools."
However, this year was not without its share of controversy.
A group of about 30 Scripps Ranch High School students who participated in the making of a video showing suggestive dance moves called "twerking" were suspended. The incident received national attention. The marks were later removed from their records.
Also, a group of employees from Serra High School were photographed in blackface as part of "Cool Runnings" Halloween costumes. A coach, an assistant coach and a teacher were suspended without pay for two days for what Marten called "insensitive costumes" that did not reflect the values of the district or its schools.
Also in San Diego Unified news this year, fourth and eight grade students showed progress in standardized English and math tests; the district came in as runner-up for the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education; the board voted to implement "Meatless Mondays" menus in some schools; and Kevin Beiser was named board president.
—City News Service