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Letter to the Editor: Questionable Spending by Carlsbad School Board/Superintendent

From purchasing 40" TV's for a break room and Superintendent's office to travel expenses, this letter to the editor discusses possible wasteful spending during a budget cut crisis.

The following letter is by Jennifer Thirkell, Health Technician, and  LIUNA (Laborers International Union of North America) Chapter Board Member.

Times are tough and they are getting tougher. If the budget deficit is as bad as we are being told it is, it is time to get serious. We need our school board to get serious. LIUNA has been taking this budget crisis seriously for months now. We have been negotiating in good faith, bringing forth money saving ideas that would also allow us to save jobs for our members. While we have come to the negotiating table in good faith every time, our ideas have been rejected repeatedly and instead some of our members were laid off in February, while others were notified they will be out of a job at the end of this school year. LIUNA has been serious. We have been serious about saving money and saving jobs all along. So far it has gotten us precious little.

Now we are asking the district and the school board to get serious- it is YOUR turn to get serious. It is hard to fathom that you seriously want us to negotiate pay cuts while you continue to insist on spending, like opening the new high school. It is not even REASONABLE to expect to open a new high school on the backs of your employees! How can we be expected to volunteer to reduce our pay and/or benefits so that you can open a new school? A school that even you have told us you will not be able to afford in the years to come. Mrs. Tanner told us at the last meeting that there is, and I quote, “no money this year, no money next year, and there will be no money the year after that.” We need you, as the leaders of this district, to start being serious yourselves and to start making tough decisions; decisions that are not going to make everybody happy, even if it includes your constituents. With all due respect, some of us are also your constituents.

The brunt of this budget crisis cannot continue to fall solely on the backs of the employees and the students of this district. It is a well known fact that your classified employees are among the lowest paid in the county. That being said, we also have not had even a cost of living raise in 7 years. Our pay has remained the same. Unlike the teachers, once we’ve been here five years, we do NOT get a yearly pay increase. We HAVE, however, shared the yearly increase in the cost of health benefits. Our part time employees still pay an even larger portion of their insurance. As an example, a six hour employee pays over $530 per month for benefits. So speaking of being serious- IT IS VERY REAL AND VERY SERIOUS WHEN I SAY THAT YOUR CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES HAVE HAD A STEADY DECREASE IN THEIR TAKE HOME PAY, IN THEIR ABILITY TO PROVIDE FOR THEIR FAMILIES, FOR THE PAST 7 YEARS.

It is hard to believe that we are in crisis mode when we examine the current spending habits of this district. While sweeping the school site budgets and taking their supply money, we find continued ridiculous spending at the district level.  

PO# 200394 for $13,500 for Conference and Travel for the Superintendents office, including $2500 for refreshments and beverages for meetings.

$5000 for Dues and Membership fees for superintendent’s memberships to the Association of California School Administrators and other memberships.

Furthermore, Why would the district feel it necessary or reasonable to purchase TWO 40” televisions? One for the break-room in the back of the DO, and one for the superintendent’s office? Some indicate it is for emergencies, however there are/were older TVs around the district that could have been used. To give the district the benefit of the doubt, we’d like to assume they were donated. But even then, I am willing to bet there are classrooms or programs in the district that could have used new tvs.

We hear you repeatedly say you all want the cuts AS FAR AWAY FROM THE KIDS AS POSSIBLE. Conferences in Houston and memberships that have nothing to do with the kids are all pretty removed from the classroom. That would’ve been a great place to start cutting. Instead, the district took $5000 from an elementary site budget that buys pencils and paper.

We don’t like finger pointing. But the finger is being pointed at us now to start saving the district money. Whether it be on big items like opening a new school, using consultants for various projects rather than the very competent administrators you have on staff or small ticket items, like buying lunches and dinners for board meetings, or simply turning a blind eye to the numerous inter district transfer students accepted each year you are asking US to make even further concessions- to take home even less.   

It doesn’t make sense. It just plain doesn’t. LIUNA knows that concessions will have to be made. We are willing to continue to work together to problem solve, to be a part of the solution. Again, we came to the table months ago, offering solutions and concessions that have been repeatedly rejected. If we are expected to make serious sacrifices, we need to be able to believe that you are taking this crisis as seriously as we are. And as of now, your actions are just not matching your words.

Kelly S. March 16, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Excellent letter and info here. We need more people who are in "the thick of it" to speak out like this.
Nani A March 16, 2012 at 04:15 PM
These are well said issues and should be of major concern to all property owners in Carlsbad. Should we sit and watch our property values decrease further as our schools fail to meet the needs of our children? The budget must be balanced, and our cuts must come from the top down, not from the classroom up. The class sizes are already too large. The education and the safety of our kids must come first.
Rachel LaMar, J.D. March 16, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Great letter. As a parent in the CUSD it angers me to read about some of the spending habits of the district - shame on you. We are in crisis mode and you are buying drinks and televisions? I would have been happy to donate my old TV if it meant more money would go to our classrooms and teachers. What the district is doing here is simple: contributing to the dumbing of the future America. How pathetic that our children will not be able to compete with those from other countries, because we in America do not truly value education or our educators. Education should come above all else in America - it is an investment in our future, our families, jobs and infrastructure - in the very strength and greatness of our country. Let's place more value on our classrooms and on our educators, and on the futures of our children.
Donald Sonck March 16, 2012 at 05:24 PM
So here's a union minion crying over $20K against a budget deficit of over $6 million! And exactly how much money was proposed in the union's "cost-saving ideas"? Agan, no details. Finally, how about teacher's union spending some of their members dues on saving teacher jobs rather than $200 million over the past ten years. A feeble attempt to curry public favor for Jerry Brown's tax-increase ballot initiave. Try again; we ain't buy'in!
Donald Sonck March 16, 2012 at 05:27 PM
That is, the CTA spent $200 million on political donations, many of which were anti-education reform measures. How many teacher jobs could be spared with that amount of money?
Rachel LaMar, J.D. March 16, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Don, I know the $20k is peanuts in comparison, but at this point I think every penny should be scrutinized by the district. There have to be ways to avoid the worst case scenario. Why are they building the new high school that won't even reach full capacity for years after it opens? There goes millions of dollars right there. I'm not a union fan either, but we need to find real solutions, and fast. I have a high school student doing part time independent study, and I am considering home schooling next year for my middle school student if things do not improve and classes get bigger. Sad.
MamabytheSea March 16, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Donald, Feel free to educate yourself on the proposals by the union... links are available on the CUSD website, but here is a valuable link: http://cusd-777.wikispaces.com/
NanCA March 17, 2012 at 12:55 AM
It's too bad that everyone is forgetting that the new high school was being built because of the continuous years of complaints from parents, students and teachers in Carlsbad that Carlsbad High School was way overcrowded. The new high school was supposed to be a solution where some of the CHS kids would want to transfer there making the attendance level smaller at CHS. Many parents thought property values would go down because new potential owners wouldn't want their kids in such a crowded school thus would not purchase a home in Carlsbad. And the new high school needed to still be built anyways because that was what Prop P was voted on for by the citizens of Carlsbad years ago. The money was earmarked for it and the upgrades at the other CUSD campuses.
Rachel LaMar, J.D. March 17, 2012 at 06:27 PM
NanCA, I was one of the parents who wanted the high school, and I still think it is needed and yes, CHS is overcrowded (I have a child there). But, at the time everything was finalized I was not aware of the future budget crisis that was looming. Now it seems the high school may only add to the problem. I know we cannot just stop building it, but I worry what impact it will have on the budget once it opens. I would like to see some real solutions to the problems we are facing. Carlsbad is a great place to live, work and raise a family. We have world-class schools that may not remain so unless we figure out ways to solve the budget problem. So, I am definitely for the new school, but I also don't want it to jeopardize the schools we already have - I hope there is a way to save them all.
CJ2007 March 17, 2012 at 06:54 PM
If Carlsbad Unified was funded at the level of our neighbor Vista Unified (a total of $700 more per student), Carlsbad wouldn't have a budget crisis. Carlsbad Unified does not fit in the "schools in need" box at either the state or federal level - we aren't "low income", we aren't "diverse" and we don't have a "high military population". It's time we begin discussing the fact that 83% of Carlsbad Unified's revenue comes from local property taxes. We all know what's happened to local property values! They've dropped - this means Carlsbad's school funding has dropped (20%!). Any financial advisor worth their weight would say - such dependence on a single source of revenue that fluctuates so wildly, is not a way to do good business. Not only does Carlsbad not get funding to the level it should, the state is trying to find ways to strip Carlsbad of its "restricted" program funding (nutrition, class-size reduction, etc) by dipping into the district's "Basic Aid" funding and calling it "Fair Share Cut". The state cuts to Carlsbad was 8.92%! This was the equivalent to nearly 100% of the "extra property tax" money the district was to be able to collect because of the "Basic Aid" designation. Carlsbad's schools are virtually - locally funded and this is NOT FAIR. How do we, as a community, want to respond to the dwindling help we're receiving from the state? How do we protect and support our CARLSBAD schools? That should really be the question on everyone's mind.
Tapple March 19, 2012 at 02:22 AM
This is satire, right? Unfortunately, I think you are serious. Of all the problems facing the state of education in CA; you want me to believe the problem is $20k spent at the District headquarters? Sorry, I am not that stupid. Why not offer some solutions to the problems, some Hope, err wait we tried that. This is one taxpayer who will not support throwing more money at education until the people take back control of the process. The truth be said, there is plenty of tax money in our State coffers but the Leglislature mismanages and misdirects the resources. Just Say No to New Taxes!
Vicki McLees March 30, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I am glad that Ms.Thirkell had the nerve to write this letter. The district and school board that we elected to have our children's best interests in mind have been making BAD decisions and need to be held accountable. My children attend Buena Vista Elementary, and although their school has been raising API scores consistently over the last three years AND is the ONLY school in Carlsbad to be recieiving the State of California's 2012 Distinguished School Award, we are slated for closure based on an ADMITTEDLY FLAWED financial analysis that has been changed more than once. They have added the costs of the large preschool on our campus to our total costs, but have only divided out the costs by our elementary students, so it really DOESN'T cost more per student for our kids than the others. They want to send our students to Magnolia if they close us which carries HUGE safety risks of it's own and Magnolia will need at least $150,000.00 in upgrades to recieve us! That money doesn't include the preschool either, which has pretty much been ignored because it comes from "a different fund." BV just got 2 new playgrounds and millions of $ have recently been spent on upgrades. Now so much money is being siphoned out of the other schools budgets for Sage Creek (that doesn't have ANY operating budget for next year) that our classes are running out of Kleenex and copy paper. Yes, we ALL need to start being aware of the poor spending habits that our Roach, Moors, et al are exhibiting!
barbara segal December 05, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Well, again, as a Carlsbad tax paying citizen, as well as an employee of CUSD, I'm writing to voice my frustration also, like many of you. And thank you for speaking out...we've got to get our voices heard, and heard by the right people. Yes, the fact that teachers in the district haven't had a cost of living pay increase in years, is disgraceful....I read an article by a teacher in Finland,who said that their teachers are paid as well as doctors.....Why are teachers so underpaid, when the job we do is so important? Yes, I understand that the new high school is a result of a bond on the ballot, it still is annoying and upsetting that first there are funds to totally redo the old high school and build an athletic field ,and then build a new one, while our salaries remain the same....And, by the way, I love working at Buena Vista Elementary.. the staff, both in the office and in the classrooms, is always friendly, helpful, and competent, and I enjoy working with the students there.

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