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  • July 2011 Teacher Restorations

    Posted by Communications at 7/8/2011 1:00:00 PM

     K-3 Class Size Restorations
    Remarks by Bill Kowba, Superintendent
    July 8, 2011

    Good Morning.

    On June 28, the Board of Education adopted a 2011/12 Budget as required, even before the State of California completed a fiscal plan for this year.  At that time, our Board had no options but to accept a budget that reflected a reduction of $330 per student resulting in overall General Fund cuts of approximately $115 million.

    This budget reduction comes on the heels of five straight years of funding cuts to K-12 education by the State.  Our adopted budget has resulted in staffing reductions of approximately 800 teachers and other certificated staff and approximately 600 of our classified support team, about 10% of our overall workforce.

    Our budget for this year reduces or eliminates important educational programs and support for our school in many ways that will be felt widely by our students.  This is a shameful trend of our state, not satisfactorily supporting education, letting our school funding sink to nearly the lowest level of any state in the nation.

    But this morning I am pleased to deliver a bit of good news, a small step in our efforts to maintain quality educational programs for the students of San Diego Unified.

    On June 21, before we approved our budget for this fiscal year and again last Tuesday night, our Board of Education directed me as Superintendent to place a priority for any restorations on maintaining our Kindergarten to Grade 3 class size ratios at our current level of 24 students per teacher and at 20 students per teacher in 29 of our high need schools which have had those lower ratios for the last few years.  

    At the Board's direction, today I have directed our Chief Human Resources Officer to begin the process of recalling an appropriate number of teachers to staff our K-3 classrooms at the same ratio as this past year.  

    We are able to take this action because of the additional cash that will be available to the district as the result to the state budget signed by the Governor last week.  I want to thank our Chief Financial Officer Ron Little and his staff for some timely and complex work over that last few days in completing an initial analysis of the implications of the state budget on our fiscal situation.

    That analysis is still ongoing, but we have concluded that we will have approximately $27 million in added cash after state deferrals that can be used to restore staff for this school year.  

    Today's action to initiate the recall of teachers to maintain our K-3 class sizes will cost us approximately $22 million in cash this year.  The remaining $5 million will be used to cover several unbudgeted costs which we will be discussed with the Board in more detail on June 12.

    Let me highlight for you the impacts of state deferrals of payments to school districts and explain why I am talking about available cash rather than total revenue associated with the adopted state budget.

    First, school districts have and continue to be impacted by the State deferring huge amounts of revenue to the next budget year as a mechanism for the state to balance its budget.  As a result of these deferrals, amounting to nearly 40% of our ADA revenue and 50% of our Class Size Reduction revenue, school districts are required to borrow money each year to meet our payroll and operating expenses.

    This week, San Diego Unified successfully borrowed $220 million to meet our financial commitments this year and with that transaction we assured our creditors that we would have positive cash balances throughout the 2011/12 school year to be able to repay that loan.

    This is a critical concept to understand because to remain in a positive cash position all year, we can only restore positions with the actual cash we receive in this fiscal cycle, which is what we are doing with this action to restore K-3 class size ratios.  

    As we have reported to the Board during our budget hearing and during our discussions of our TRANs note borrowing, our district remains in a very precarious fiscal position.  We will allocate the proceeds of our loan over the coming months.  In April 2012, we will have only approximately $3 million in cash for that month.  That is why our CFO is carefully projecting our cash flow with this new revenue from the state and why we are limiting any restorations to a level that ensures we remain cash positive throughout the year and in a position to pay our employees and meet other obligations.

    Let me conclude by stressing why this restoration of K-3 class sizes is our top priority.  As our Board member Kevin Beiser will highlight for you in a moment, small class sizes matter especially in the early grades and especially for our struggling students and our English Language learners. 

    Two weeks ago, the New York Times featured our small class sizes, and our struggle to preserve them in these times of shrinking school budgets.  That article highlighted the academic gains made at Central Elementary School in City Heights, gains that are mirrored in several of our schools that have benefited from smaller class sizes.

    We need to continue to give this invaluable learning opportunity to our students.  To the 80 percent of the voters in our district that don't have kids in our schools, let me share some of the challenges that the students in our poorest schools face.  Their parents are more likely to not only both work, but to have several jobs. They probably depend on the school for breakfast and lunch, because not only can their parents not afford to provide a total nutritional package, their work schedule may put their children at school in the very early hours of the morning.

    They may be learning English - their mother language may be one of more than 50 we have spoken in our district.  These children may move several times during the school year, forcing a game of catch-up or, at the very least, several weeks of adjustment to the new surroundings.

    These students are San Diego's future leaders, workers, entrepreneurs, scientists and teachers. Giving them the best start is worth it to all of us.
    It's for these reasons that our board, our principals, our teachers, our support staff and the collective school community has demanded this priority.  San Diego Unified is a national leader in making small class sizes a top priority and for our children we want to remain a leader in this area.

    Thank you for being here.  I would be happy to answer any questions.

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  • Increasing Graduation Rates

    Posted by Communications Department at 4/18/2011 5:10:00 PM

    Increasing Graduation Rates with College Ready Curriculum

    By: Bill Kowba, Superintendent
    San Diego Unified School District

    • Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, April 14, 2011

    A recent San Diego Union-Tribune editorial questioned the wisdom of offering a college ready course of study for San Diego Unified School District high school students. The editorial expressed a concern that updating graduation requirements with more rigorous courses might somehow increase the dropout rate rather than actually help prepare students for college and career opportunities.

    In fact, schools across the state and the country are finding that by making education more engaging, challenging and relevant; we can increase graduation rates and better prepare our young people for college and successful careers. Dropout rates for our schools are far too high on the national, state and local levels. San Diego Unified has been addressing this problem by focusing on several programs that keep our students engaged and in school.

    We share the vision articulated by retired General Colin Powell and his wife Alma who have founded America’s Promise Alliance. America’s Promise teamed with Gallup to conduct a national survey of students. This national student poll shows us that 37% of students do not feel actively engaged at school. These are the students who are most at-risk to drop out of school if we cannot find ways to make instruction relevant and engaging.

    We also know that an estimated 75% of jobs in California will require some postsecondary education by 2020 and approximately 37% of all jobs will require a Bachelor’s degree. Currently, 7 of 10 jobs in San Diego require some form of formal education beyond high school.

    Public education must recognize this challenge and we must evolve our schools to become a place where all students are engaged and feel that their studies are important to their futures. To meet this challenge, our Board of Education has adopted a plan that will ensure that all San Diego Unified high schools offer a complete UC/CSU “a-g” sequence of the 15 courses needed for college admission. This will be enhanced by having our high schools also offer two or more career pathways aligned with California Industry Sectors including industry-standard courses.

    San Diego Unified has already made good progress in our efforts to make our schools more engaging and relevant through a more rigorous curriculum in our high schools. Today, 85% of all students are enrolled in three or more “a-g” courses and over 92% of ninth graders are enrolled in three or more “a-g” courses. Of large California urban districts, San Diego Unified is second (43.0%) only to San Francisco Unified (53.7%) in “a-g” completion rates with a “C” or better (Class of 2008). We are seeing the percentage of “a-g” “completers” increasing steadily each year.

    Even in the face of our on-going budget crisis, San Diego Unified is living up to our core mission, to prepare students for successful futures, by moving forward with important upgrades to our high school graduation requirements. New graduation requirements will align our curriculum with the UC/CSU-approved courses and add career readiness requirements such as pathways for Engineering, Multi-media Productions, Biotechnology, and Automotive Technology. These new expectations will add UC/CSU subject area requirements in World Language and Algebra II, and the Board will be considering an increase over time in the required credits graduation - from 44 to 48 (most districts require 46 to 48) beginning with the Class of 2015 or later.

    These curriculum and graduation requirement changes will allow San Diego Unified, as a large urban district, to pioneer the alignment of high school graduation requirements with the new “Common Core” State and Federal Standards. These changes will also give our students more options for career and college success after high school and prepare them to become productively engaged citizens of our community. By phasing in these new requirements and course changes through 2016, the district will minimize budget impacts over time and will allow for better implementation planning and professional development to prepare our teaching and leadership staff.

    Other changes to our classrooms and instruction are furthering student engagement and learning. Most significantly is the District’s investment in classroom technology supported by the Proposition S bond program approved by the voters in 2008. Our i21 classroom initiative has already installed interactive instruction boards in more than 2,500 of our 7,000 classrooms and provided more than 40,000 netbooks to our students. By 2012, all of our classrooms from Grade 3 through high school will have digital learning tools available to engage students and create tech-savvy learners.

    The bottom line is that we need to invest in education and we must continue to innovate our instruction if we are to keep students engaged and in school. California is still struggling to accurately calculate dropout rates for our schools, but by any measure, San Diego schools are doing well and getting better. Our most recent updated calculation for the 2008/09 school year shows a dropout rate of 9.7%. But losing nearly 10% of our students before high school graduation is still too high! We can do better and we believe these curriculum and technology improvements will contribute to a higher graduation rate with students who are better prepared for the future.

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  • School Reform, Gains and a Parcel Tax

    Posted by Communications Department at 8/22/2010 5:00:00 PM

    By Bill Kowba

    • Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Aug. 22, 2010

    Tuesday is the first day of classes for the San Diego Unified School District and we want to welcome back our hardworking, energetic students. Our team of nearly 14,000 employees; teachers, principals, support staff and administrators is ready to get back to the business of preparing our young people for successful futures.

    San Diego Unified will commence this year with a new team of area superintendents whose role will be to build on our academic achievement record of the last five years. Leading our educational team will be Dr. Nellie Meyer, deputy superintendent for academics. Meyer will manage a community-based school reform program that the Board of Education began implementing in 2008. This reform framework is based on the firm conviction that every student can learn and the recognition that broad-based teacher collaboration, strategic data assessment and strong parent engagement are the keys to real gains in student learning.

    This collaborative, community-based emphasis is contributing to gains in student achievement throughout the district, as evidenced by the most recent California Standards Test scores. These results show that San Diego Unified now ranks first among large urban schools districts in California in literacy, and is closing in on the top ranking in science and math. The results highlight that our students continue to advance in English language arts, mathematics and science and that our district ranks near the top of all urban districts in California. This good news is tempered by the recognition that achievement levels are still below where they need to be and the achievement gap between our students of color and white students, while improving, is still unacceptable. But the San Diego community should take pride in the steady progress the district has made in boosting student achievement levels for all our students the last five years.

    In all subjects and all grades, our students are making significant progress. In English language arts, student achievement levels have increased by 19 percent since 2008. In mathematics, student achievement levels have increased by 25 percent since 2007. Latino students in particular have gained 32 percent in literacy and 27 percent in math over the last two years. Our biggest gains in student achievement have come in science, where the achievement level has increased by 36 percent since 2008. Information about the 2010 California Standards Test and school-by-school results is available at 

    This year we will continue to keep the focus on achievement with a new academic management structure that assigns area superintendents to manage all schools within our high school clusters. This structure will ensure that our elementary, middle and high schools are working together to help our students progress. Our area superintendents will provide support to our principals and teachers as they implement reform strategies that have been proven to increase student achievement.

    These gains in student achievement have come during a period when K-12 education has faced the most difficult challenges in our history. San Diego Unified has sustained more than $400 million in budget reductions during the last four years as a result of the spiraling state fiscal crisis. As a result of these deep cuts, the district has been forced to increase class sizes, reduce school supply budgets, and drastically reduce administrative services. But even in the face of these budget constraints, schools throughout the district have been making dramatic gains in student achievement with a reform process that encourages teacher collaboration, data-driven teaching strategies that focus on the individual progress of each student, a broad curriculum and strong behavioral support for students at every school.

    Maintaining and accelerating gains in student achievement is at risk in the years ahead. The financial outlook remains bleak with San Diego Unified facing another huge budget deficit of $130 million for the 2011-12 year. During the last four years of budget cuts, we have been able to protect our classrooms by implementing administrative reforms and cost-saving initiatives. But our options are limited as we confront next year’s looming deficit and we face the prospect of hundreds of teacher layoffs and cutting even more essential programs.

    To help mitigate the impacts of further budget cuts, the district has placed an emergency temporary parcel tax proposal on the November ballot. This measure would raise approximately $50 million annually in local revenues for schools for the next five years. These will be funds that Sacramento cannot take away and which must be spent on classroom education to enhance efforts to increase student achievement and save teacher jobs. For more information about a parcel tax measure, visit

    At San Diego Unified, we continue to focus on providing a quality education for every student. Contrary to some recent criticism directed at the district, San Diego’s schools are not failing. The solution to the challenge of improving overall student achievement is not changing the district governance model with an appointed board or mayoral control of schools as some have suggested. Real and effective school reform that leads to consistent improvements in overall student achievement is in place and working at San Diego Unified.

    Kowba is superintendent of San Diego Unified School District. 

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