Freedom Foundation

Sacramento School District Negotiating Itself into Oblivion

Let’s say you want to buy a new flat-screen television but don’t have the money to do it today. You could wait a month or two until you’ve saved up enough to pay cash, or you could buy it on credit and hope you can come up with the money later.

Are you making a sound fiscal choice?

Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) administrators are asking themselves the same question today after an audit performed by the California State Auditors Office in December made it clear the district is in big trouble.

SCUSD has been crawling toward fiscal insolvency for the past decade, but recently it’s been more of a sprint toward the bankruptcy finish line. Cheering it on is the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA), identified as one of the primary reasons the district is in such poor shape.

While SCUSD has had problems for years, its current woes can be traced back to a 2017 collective bargaining agreement with SCTA.

According to the report, the labor contract cost the district more than $31 million per year. With total expenditures in 2018 adding up to just over $528 million, this contract alone represents a 5.8 percent increase in spending.

This contract included a 7.5 percent raise over the life of the contract, an adjustment of the salary schedule for midcareer staff and reduced student-to-teacher classroom ratios (increasing the need for more teachers). According to SCUSD, employee salaries and benefits make up 81.50 percent of its entire budget.

Unlike most other school districts, or employers for that matter, the district pays the entire cost of its employees’ healthcare. Teachers in this district don’t pay a penny for their employer-provided healthcare.

Frankly, you can’t blame the teachers for this sweet deal. Good pay, a strong pension and incredible healthcare would cause anyone to simply accept the deal and not ask too many questions about how the district could possibly afford to pay it out.

The simple answer is the district can’t afford it, and SCTA is to blame for the current situation the district finds themselves in.

In May of 2019, the first wake up call came in the form of pink slips handed out to more than 100 staff members of SCUSD. According to Jorge Aguilar, the current superintendent of SCUSD, the cuts were a direct result of their current financial situation.

If SCTA thought the budget crisis was simply a bargaining tool, they now know it’s all too real.

SCTA gave the district several suggestions on how the district could ‘save’ money in the long term and avert the crisis, however the auditor’s report tells a different story.

“In fact, several of the teacher’s union’s suggestions would increase the district’s costs dramatically,” says the State Auditor’s report.

Completely blind of the district impending financial doom, SCTA has demanded the district hire even more staff.

“Implementing the union’s staffing proposals would increase ongoing district expenditures by at least $36.7 million — the cost of hiring the additional staff to meet the class size reduction goals plus rehiring classified staff not covered by the class size goals.”

In other words, SCTA’s grand plan was to double the district’s current deficit.

SCUSD is on the verge of state takeover. While bankrupt school districts don’t close or cease to teach students, a takeover would mean firings, layoffs, salary reductions and a wide range of other negative actions that would directly impact teachers and their students.

SCTA is supposed to bargain for the teachers they already have, not the extra dues payers they want. By selling their members a bill of goods that the district can’t pay for, SCTA is directly responsible for the financial crisis the district finds themselves in.

Thankfully, teachers don’t have to go along with a union that isn’t looking out for their best interest. Ever since June 2018, teachers have had the option to cease their dues payments under Janus v. AFSCME.

For those teachers in Sacramento, it might be time to consider their options.