Unification Windfall

School District Gets Much-Needed Cash Infusion; Layoffs Still Loom

District Superintendent Brian Sarvis
Paul Wellman (file)

As you read this, there are more than 200 teachers in the Santa Barbara School District (not to mention many more classified employees) currently unaware whether or not they will have a job when classes begin next fall and unfortunately, according to district officials, they aren’t about to find out their fate any time soon.

However, in what is nothing but good news for them, Superintendent Brian Sarvis announced in a press conference on Friday morning, May 20, that an attempt to formally unify the Elementary and Secondary School Districts of Santa Barbara was approved this week and, as result, the cash-strapped district (note the lack of “s”) is looking at a much-needed infusion of $6 million in time for next year’s budget. Asked what this news could mean for the scores of pending pink slips, the superintendent responded, “This could possibly save many jobs. It is a huge, huge impact.”

Back in February, the Santa Barbara School Board began exploring how exactly to come up with some $10 million of required cuts in light of Governor Brown’s tentative January budget. To that end, looking to keep the pain as far away from the classroom and the kids as possible, the idea to seek a Thompson Bill unification of the Elementary and Secondary Districts — which they figured would help come up with more than half of the cash they needed to — was put into full swing. Led by Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith, who had previously guided a district that he worked at in the 1990s through just such a process, the plan became a reality on Thursday night when the Santa Barbara Committee on School District Organization voted unanimously in favor of the largely benign housekeeping maneuver.

According to Sarvis, since the S.B. School Districts have been operating as a “joint-resolution” entity for the past five years, the new unification really doesn’t change much at all — administration structures will remain the same, student services won’t be affected, and so on. In fact, as Smith summed it up on Friday, “We are not changing anything other than our name [which will soon become the Santa Barbara Unified School District] and the fact that we will be getting more money.” (It should be noted, though, that the unification is likely to create a medium-sized monkey wrench of sorts for the school district’s handling of certain intra-district transfers from various feeder elementary schools, such as those in Goleta Union.)

The $6 million ongoing shot in the arm, which is generated by the now-combined districts’ new cumulative revenue limit, could not come at a better time. Unfortunately, it is just one puzzle piece in what remains a very fuzzy fiscal picture for the district. Along with the unification efforts and a few other cash-saving maneuvers, the school board closed its $10 million shortfall by adopting a tentative budget that featured a series of up to 10 unpaid furlough days (the maximum number was only called for if the unification failed) for teachers and classified employees.

Those furlough days however, which have the potential to shorten the school year while also lengthening actual school days, need to be negotiated with the local teacher’s union before they can become a reality. As of press time, those negotiations have thus far proved fruitless. Until those talks reach a conclusion, the district is unable to say definitively how many, if any, of the many pink slips sent out in March will be rescinded. Explaining what effect this nuance, as well as the impact Governor Brown’s recently unveiled May Revise of the state budget, may or may not have on the district’s fiscal standing, Sarvis told reporters on Friday, “The picture just isn’t clear quite yet.”

Hoping to help resolve that murkiness, the School Board is slated to get an update on the budget situation at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 24, with June 14 pegged as the night for a final vote on the matter. As for the hundreds of employees currently in limbo, Sarvis lamented on Friday, “We will be able to finally tell all our people about what [pink slips] will stand and which ones we will be able to call back by the last week of June.”

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