Sweetwater School District finds a way to avoid massive cuts

Last week, the San Diego City School Board voted to issue layoff warnings to nearly 2-thousand employees, including almost 900 teachers. Meanwhile, the second-largest school district in the county is breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Officials of the Sweetwater Union High School District announced Monday they've closed their budget gap without having to lay off any teachers or counselors. KUSI's Ed Lenderman has been following this story and reports on the latest details.

Count an early retirement incentive and federal stimulus dollars as key parts of a package of cost-saving measures.

Standing in front of the new main building for Sweetwater High School, district officials were all smiles Monday, especially when their counterparts elsewhere are issuing pink slips this week.

The district needed to cut 25.4-million dollars from next year's budget and given the fact that some of the cuts require union negotiation, it managed to cut 8-million more than required. This is a deal they have been working on for a while and it just came together, luckily, last Friday.

Sweetwater High Principal Roman Del Rosario says he can't begin to explain the burden that's been lifted, “this happens to be the time of year when we're preparing for state exams, high-stakes tests and you can imagine the focus, the focus  of the idea of has been on teachers being laid off.”

A key last Friday, say officials, was the acceptance of an early retirement incentive by 60 veteran teachers. A figure the district hopes will go to 200.

Another major part of the package is the one time use of 9-million dollars in federal education job funds.

The district also wants to increase the teacher-class size ratio of 31:1 to 33:1. But that requires negotiation.

Leaders also emphasized an extremely conservative fiscal policy over the last several years, they say over the years, the teachers in their district didn't get a raise, where many other districts were giving out 7-percent raises and as the economy slowed.

The goal, say Sweetwater leaders, was stability and consistency in the classroom. Anything but layoffs. But as Board President John McCann noted, we're not out of the woods yet, citing the state's ongoing budget crisis.

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