San Diego Unified school board approves raises in new teachers union contract
Teachers get a 10 percent retroactive raise and 5 percent for the coming school year. The district projects a $128.9 million shortfall for 2024-25 but expects to balance the budget by then.
The San Diego Unified School District board signed off on $517 million in pay and benefits raises for employees over three years, with officials saying the increases are needed to remain competitive amid a chronic school labor shortage.
The board on June 20 approved a new three-year contract with the district teachers union, providing a 10 percent raise retroactive to July 1 last year and a 5 percent raise for the upcoming 2023-24 school year. Possible additional raises could be bargained for the 2024-25 school year.
The agreement triggers identical percentage raises for employees in all other bargaining units, such as principals, bus drivers and central office staff.
San Diego Unified operates nine public schools in the Point Loma-Ocean Beach area.
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The new annual starting salary for a San Diego Unified teacher is $64,000, according to board member Richard Barrera. A mid-career teacher will now make $105,000 and a highly experienced teacher $124,000.
The compensation increases are one of several parts of the agreement that district leaders hope will improve recruitment and retention of employees.
“That’s a necessity,” trustee Cody Petterson said. “There’s no way we can have high-quality staff without doing that.”
The new contract also doubles paid maternity leave to six weeks, expands health benefits to educators on temporary contracts over the summer and provides for incremental increases in school staffing.
It will start to increase weekly arts and enrichment time for students — which also doubles as prep time for teachers — from about an hour to 90 minutes by 2024, said Kyle Weinberg, president of the teachers union, the San Diego Education Association.
The agreement does not increase teacher staffing allocations for schools. It keeps the ratio at one teacher per 24 students for kindergarten through third grade and one teacher per 32 students for grades 4-6. The agreement does lower the maximum class size for K-3 from 35 to 29 students.
The deal will create a district team that will take care of special-education assessments for students, a move meant to help reduce the workload and increase retention of special-education teachers, who are frequently understaffed, Weinberg said.
The new agreement falls short of one key demand the teachers union had this year: staffing every elementary school with a full-time counselor. Counselors provide academic and mental health consulting and have been seen as one of the key staffing needs for schools as they grapple with youth mental health.
This past school year, about 70 percent of the district’s more than 100 elementary schools lacked a full-time counselor, and about a third had a counselor on campus two days a week, according to data. If a school wants more counselor time, it has to pay from its own site budget.
The new contract would increase staffing so a counselor is on campus at least three days a week at elementary schools with more than 250 students, four days a week for schools with more than 375 students and five days a week for schools with more than 500 students. It’s the first update to the district’s counselor staffing ratios in more than a decade.
Now about three dozen elementary schools will have a full-time counselor, according to enrollment figures. Under the previous union contract, no elementary school had enough students to qualify for a full-time one.
Now about 20 elementary schools will get a counselor two days a week and about 60 will get a counselor three days a week.
District leaders said they can’t improve staffing more than that because they don’t have enough money.
“We just don’t have the revenue,” said Superintendent Lamont Jackson, citing underfunding of federal dollars for low-income students and students with disabilities.
The district is anticipating an 8 percent cost-of-living increase in general state funding for next school year but also expects a budget shortfall starting in the 2024-25 school year, according to a presentation June 20.
That’s the year when some of the district’s major COVID-19 relief funding will begin to expire. The district says $160 million in relief money will disappear in 2024, out of about $788 million the district has received.
Current district projections indicate it will have a $128.9 million budget shortfall in 2024-25, then $182 million in 2025-26. However district leaders said they do not anticipate having to resort to deficit spending in the next two years because the district for years has managed to balance the budget.
District officials said they may balance the budget for 2024 by freezing hiring, moving money around fund accounts, increasing student attendance — the basis for state funding — and cutting program spending.
“We’re going to have to get leaner and meaner in the sense [that] we’re going to have to honey badger our way in Sacramento and D.C. and fight for additional funds,” Petterson said.
— Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report. ◆