CHULA VISTA (KGTV) -- Facing a nearly $30 million budget shortfall, the superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District revealed a proposal Friday to issue more than 230 layoff notices to teachers and staff and eliminate a program that helps struggling students graduate.
According to agenda documents posted Friday afternoon, Dr. Karen Janney will ask the Board of Trustees to eliminate 237 positions, including 182 teachers and all 23 librarians.
Sweetwater’s financial woes came to light in 2018 after the district miscalculated its budget by $30 million.
“To see financial ineptitude affect people’s lives this way, it’s devastating,” said Sweetwater Education Association Vice President Cesar Fernandez. “It’s a kick in the gut. It takes the air out of you.”
Layoff notices are essentially a formal warning about a potential job loss. Sweetwater spokesman Manuel Rubio said the district was working hard to minimize the number of actual layoffs.
“There are significant costs and significant challenges that districts are facing,” he said. “That has nothing to do with how our finances are managed, it’s how we’re funded.”
“We’ve lost a lot of students in the last few years, and we’re not alone,” he added.
District enrollment has dropped by about 1,700 students over the last five years, he said. Since the district gets roughly $10,000 in funding for each student, the enrollment decline shrunk revenue by about $17 million, according to Rubio.
Special education and pension costs are also up significantly, he said. The district’s pension contribution roughly doubled from $20 million in 2015-16 to $40 million in 2018-19, Rubio said.
The layoffs include 32 teachers attached to the district’s alternative education learning centers. The superintendent’s plan would close all 12 learning centers by July 2020.
"They're targeting some of our most vulnerable students and that's not acceptable," said SEA president Julie Walker.
The centers are designed to help struggling students graduate. About 1,300 students are currently in the program.
According to Fernandez, the district projects the move will save about $3 million. The SEA contests the figure, saying the changes could lead to further declines in enrollment.
Teachers say the centers often serve students with special needs, teen parents, homeless students, and learners with mental health concerns who require a non-traditional school day.
“We understand these are the most needy of students,” said Rubio said. “We’re going to streamline the way we offer services to them.”
He said the students would be transitioned into an independent study model, and many of the existing learning center teachers would be attached to the new program.
Teachers, however, said the new model might further disconnect the struggling students from campus life.
“Being at a learning center on a school site, it allows them to participate in sports and clubs; things that connect them to school, things that keep them in school,” said Fernandez.
“I would not be surprised if the dropout rate in our district rises as a result of this,” added longtime teacher and librarian Ana Banos.