San Diego schools can only remain open with federal stimulus money

The San Diego Unified School Board has decided to embark on a bold plan to reopen the schools this fall for students all day every day. But the only way this can be done for the full year is with the state providing as much as its revenues permit, along with stimulus money from the federal government.

Facing severe cutbacks in state funding for schools announced last month by the Governor, the Board and Superintendent had contemplated a continuation of distance learning.  This would prolong significant learning loss for all students, but particularly low income students, English language learners, special education students and homeless and foster youth.  However, the state legislature is planning to reverse those cuts. These state funds could cover the extra Covid-19 expenses at the beginning of the year.  It would also allow for a high quality distance learning program for those families who choose not to return to the classroom.  However, if federal stimulus money for public schools is not approved this summer the district would need to revert to distance learning for the second half of the year.

Some say opening the school year with insufficient funds for in-classroom learning all year is a high stakes gamble.  But the Board determined that the alternative of a mediocre full year was not acceptable.  Furthermore, the economy cannot fully reopen unless our schools are open full time for working parents.

So far only ½ of 1% of federal stimulus money has been awarded to public schools. The House of Representatives approved an additional $58B for public schools in the Heroes Act.  Now the Senate needs to come up with a stimulus plan that specifically provides funds for public schools, the ultimate safety net in our communities.  The Council of Great City Schools and all of the major national educational organizations have stated that a minimum of $175B is needed to keep our schools afloat as state and local revenues plummet.  All of the additional Covid-19 costs require increased—not decreased–funding.

As difficult as it was to close our schools, we did not face the immediate existential threat that the airlines and other industries faced in March.  But the day of reckoning for public schools will arrive before the first day of the school year.  We cannot start the year with teacher layoffs, program cuts or distance only learning.  Every school district needs to make its case directly to its state’s two US Senators with the personal stories of how this will affect our students. They will eventually find out, but it will be too late if we do not speak up now.



Lessons from George Floyd

As a Trustee of the San Diego Unified School Board I feel compelled to speak out about the murder of George Floyd.  The nation is now waking up to the reality of systemic racism within our police departments, as well as other institutions.  We can no longer refer to “just a few bad apples.”  Of course, the vast majority of police officers are decent and courageous people, carrying out a difficult job.  But as Chris Rock once said, no one would put up with a few “bad apple” pilots crashing airliners.  One example of the systemic problem was that Floyd’s murderer had been selected by the system to train the other new officers on how to act as a police officer.  Along with many elected officials I support the formation of a truly independent San  Diego  police review commission.

At San Diego Unified we have our own sworn police department that addresses issues internally in the schools, as well as external threats ranging from human trafficking to school shooters.  During the pandemic our officers have assisted with food distribution to our school families.  But at this time we should review our own police practices.  We also need to better understand how our armed, uniformed officers are perceived by students of color, particularly African Americans.

We must also look at systemic racism in our educational system.  A few years ago the Superintendent convened a workshop for school leaders with the National Equity Project to address the issue of low expectations for our students of color.  (As a psychologist I can say that teachers’ expectations have a significant impact on student outcomes.)  A few participants at the workshop asked me, “What happened?  Was there an incident that led to this workshop?”  Yes, there’s a problem and it has been around for many, many generations.  Our own mission statement that  all students will succeed has not resulted in equal outcomes for African Americans and other students of color.

We have a pilot program that has a few ethnic studies courses in our district.  But that is not enough.  Our goal is to have multi-ethnic perspectives infused into our entire curriculum at all grade levels.  It is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot move forward if we do not realistically understand our history and the through line of racism.

This weekend I participated in a protest with the overriding theme of Black Lives Matter.  I was encouraged by the predominance of so many young people of all ethnic backgrounds who were participating.  Many white citizens are starting to wake up.

Seeing a video of a man being tortured for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until his death is horrifying for all decent people.  I realize that grief and talk without action is not enough.  The next step is listening.  We need to engage with San Diego community members of all races and backgrounds to address the damage against students of color within our system.  After all, they include our future police officers, judges, social workers and healthcare providers.

As a full school board we can only take official action at a regular board meeting and I am addressing this as an individual member.  Our next regular meeting is June 23.  However, we have a already scheduled board workshop on June 16 at which time I plan to begin the meeting with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to honor the life of George Floyd.


So I went back to high school for one day

Since the time I graduated from high school in the 1970s the world has changed.  Or has it? Has high school changed?  There were three grades at high school, because there was junior high instead of middle school.  The “board of education” was a paddle for misbehavior. (Being “hacked” had nothing to do with computers.)  There were six periods of English, math, science, history, PE and an elective.  But is it really that much different now?

I decided to shadow a student for a day at a local high school. I thought it would be better way to see what a student experiences in high school, rather than going on an organized tour or simply observing a class from the back of the room.  I would try to do the work that the students were doing in a manner as unobtrusive as possible.

In my high school day I learned about African American history, analyzed various texts about cultural perspective and learned how to divide polynomials.  As an adult it turned out to be very engaging content.

I arrived to the high school a few minutes before the bell to meet the student that I would follow.  As an older white guy dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt with a backpack, was I fooling myself that I could blend in? I had told the principal that I did not want to follow some very high achieving student leader, but someone more “typical.”  She told me she asked a few students who declined the “opportunity” to have an adult follow them around all day. No surprise, but fortunately, one student agreed.

My first class was AVID, a course originally developed in San Diego by a teacher who wanted to encourage students whose parents did not attend college to be prepared for that possibility. When I was in school you were either on the college track or you were not.  I found an empty seat at a desk, all of which were arranged in small groups.

The teacher started the day with a warm greeting and a genuine interest in how the students had spent their holiday weekend.   On this day the topic was African American history for Black History Month.  Only two or three of the students were African American.  Students brainstormed in their groups about events, places, leaders and causes in the civil rights movement. They were to individually write a poem on this topic and then work as a group to come up with a group poem.  One student did not hesitate to speak up when the instructions were not clear to him and the teacher found another way to explain the process.

We started English class with independent reading and then wrote a reflection on what we had read. I turned in my paragraph.  I read about Reeshma, a daughter of Indian immigrants, who at first desperately tried to fit in.  Finally, she embraced her differences and became a leader in her school.  We then read other texts about how one’s cultural perspective influences one’s view of the world. The teacher asked thought provoking questions and gave students time to think and answer.  We then developed an outline for an expository essay on this topic with a clear thesis and evidence to back it up.  As I am writing this article I am aware that I have no specific thesis, just observations.  The work was begun as a group and then continued as individuals.  Once again the desks here were arranged in small groups.

The school was spread out more like an attractive college campus with many separate buildings.  Students walked calmly, chatting with friends on their long trek across the campus.  The students didn’t pay any attention to me as I walked along with my sophomore student and his friends, but a couple of adults had a quizzical look.  By the way, I was properly registered as a visitor.

Instead of algebra or geometry, the math class is called Integrated Math.  Once again I was struck by how the teachers are very warm and also very respectful of the students.  There is no stiff, hierarchical distance. As a psychologist who enjoys working with adolescents, I can identify with resistance to arbitrary rules.  Students are able to leave the classroom to use the restroom at any time without any disruption.  Everyone stays on task. I was impressed with how engaged the students were in each class.

I don’t remember a lot from my algebra classes except the basics.  The teacher very carefully explained division of polynomials.  After her thorough explanation, the students were to work on a problem in their small group and then present it to the rest of the class.  In every class the teachers were constantly moving around the room, as opposed to sitting at a desk in the front of the room. At the end of the class the students took an individual quiz with a problem and turned it in.  I thought I had learned how to do it, but I just had to have the teacher verify that it was correct.  Yes!  The teacher told me that she would review the results to see if many students did not master it, in which case she would re-teach it.  What if just a few students don’t get it? –I will find time the next day to work with them individually during class without calling attention to them.  By the way, she’s also in her classroom every day at lunchtime for anyone who needs help.  And she coaches boys’ volleyball.

Lunchtime.  The hardest time of day for a new student.  But instead of going down to the lunch court we head to a lounge where the basketball team hangs out.  We watched videos of the team that they were going to play that night.  The students selected segments that they wanted to watch on the big screen.  In between there were comments about what is the best way to invest in the stock market.

It was a long trek across campus to Spanish class, which had another friendly and enthusiastic teacher. Since I am already fluent in Spanish there was not a lot for me to learn.  The desks were in traditional rows and I was more of an observer, which made the class seem a little longer, because I was not challenged.  In fact, I had wondered if the block schedule with 90 minute classes would make the classes too long.  Students take four classes per semester instead of six, but in that way they are able to take 8 courses per year.  But in all of the classes that morning the time flew by.  There was a ten minute warning bell before the classes ended, but students stayed engaged.  There was no mad dash for the door when the bell rang. I remember that bell being the sound of freedom.

So what’s different? The students are actually encouraged to think more critically rather than just answer questions about content read.  Teachers are more engaged with the students and, therefore, students are no longer passive. Students are getting a broader, multicultural perspective.. I felt somewhat invisible myself, which is what I wanted, but I don’t know what it would be like for a new student arriving mid-year.

I chose to visit Lincoln High School in southeastern San Diego, a school with a high concentration of poverty like many schools in San Diego. Lincoln has a long African American history, but now a majority of the students are Latino. There are many well documented problems at Lincoln related to student achievement and past violent incidents at the school. All this talk piqued my curiosity about what a day at Lincoln is like.  The classroom teachers knew that I was coming, but they seemed too engaged with the students to worry about the presence of a school board member.  I obviously did not get the full picture, because there were about 40 other classes going on across campus at the same time.  The classes I attended were full, but they did not seem overcrowded. The atmosphere on campus was calm on the day I attended.  Walking across the campus at lunchtime was a similar scene to what I have seen at other high schools in the district.

But I realize that as a school board member I will never fully know what it is like to be a student, teacher, principal or parent at a particular high school.  What I do know is that the teaching and learning that I saw at Lincoln was in many ways higher quality than what I experienced as a high school student myself decades ago.  But that was the only world I knew at the time.  My hope is that Lincoln students will leave with a broader perspective and then go on to improve public education more than we have in the past few decades.

My decision to conclude my tenure on the San Diego School Board

My decision to conclude my tenure on the San Diego School Board

John Lee Evans, Vice President, San Diego Unified Board of Education

When I first started to serve on the San Diego School Board in 2009 we developed Vision 2020 with community input for school reform, San Diego style.  As 2020 approaches we have made significant progress on most of the goals.  I would like to graduate with the Class of 2020, so I am not going to seek re-election to the board.

It has been a great honor to serve on the school board. I did not run for the school board to “run” the district, but rather to reform our schools by making major changes in its direction.  This has been done in collaboration with other board members, particularly with Richard Barrera, who was elected at the same time.  It is also being done with our staff, particularly our teachers, who are collaborating in developing a groundbreaking growth and development model to improve teaching, rather than the outdated evaluation system.

We hired an effective reform minded educator as Superintendent, Cindy Marten, to operationalize the lofty goals of Vision 2020. She has focused on bringing together all of the isolated departments to together focus on the overall success of every student, particularly those who have historically been left behind. We also broadened our definition of success that goes beyond (but includes) standardized test scores.

We led the state in providing extra resources to high need schools before the Local Control Funding Formula was adopted.  We led the nation by emphasizing critical thinking before the nation adopted Common Core. We became an early national leader in the adoption of technology in the classroom. More recently we are leading the state in adopting research- based Healthy Start Times for our high school students.

One leader compared making change in such a large school district to turning around an aircraft carrier.  I am confident that we are pointed in the right direction and that these reform efforts will continue when I leave the board at the end of 2020.

The job of school board member requires a unique commitment of time and talent.  It calls for someone 1) with experience in education,  2) who values public service over politics, 3) has a commitment to equity in public education as a social justice calling, 4) has a very high level of personal integrity  5) has a collaborative mindset and 6) is respectful to all parents, teachers, students and community members.  7) A thick skin is also necessary when making sometimes unpopular decisions that are in the best interest of students.

In my decade on the board I would say that three of the nine other members with whom I have served have met this very high level of qualification. by meeting all seven criteria. The other board members have had some of these positive qualities  My hope is that narcissists, bomb throwers, bullies and persons without high ethical standards do not apply.

Because it is a part time job with a full time psychological commitment, it is often difficult to attract knowledgeable people with the right personality and experience to serve.  My hope is that a person who meets the above qualifications will be elected to serve in this seat along with our exceptionally effective  board members, Richard Barrera, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, and Michael McQuary, to continue our reform efforts to improve public education in San Diego.  I am announcing my intentions a couple of months before the filing period, so that those I have described as highly qualified have time to enter the race.  I will continue to work very hard on the board through November 2020 and I will continue to support and advocate for public education beyond that date.

School board races need to be given more attention.  Only a small percentage of the electorate currently has children in public school–with the other voters being younger than parents or grandparents.  But the health of our city is related to the strength of public education in all neighborhoods.  Every member of society has a stake in a strong public education system.


Examples of sustained reform under Vision 2020

We have a broader and more rigorous curriculum and have increased our graduation rate, while making graduation more meaningful.  Our high schools have been transformed to bring more college courses on campus, as well as career technical courses and internships.  The number of students eligible for CSU and UC has gone up by nearly 50%–with dramatically greater increases for African Americans and Hispanics. At the same time we have increased music and arts programs, STEM programs, as well as world language programs.

We have developed multiple measures of learning that go beyond one state test score to include the full development of the child.  This success at all levels is reflected in the recent Nation’s Report Card in which San Diego Unified scored at the top of urban districts across the country.

We have organized the district into 16 clusters of neighborhood schools to meet the needs of each community in a very large district.  This provides greater continuity in programs along the K-12 span and we are moving towards preschool for all.

Teaching has improved through Professional Learning Communities composed of teachers and administrators.  The district and the teachers’ union have been collaborating on a groundbreaking growth and development model to improve teaching that will replace the outdated and inadequate evaluation system.

We have been improving learning opportunities by closing the digital divide.  San Diego Unified has set an example for the nation in educational technology.  With the strong support of the voters we have developed world class facilities for our specialized academic programs and in the process we have enhanced our neighborhoods with improved athletic and arts facilities, while modernizing all or our schools.

In addition to improving the education of our children we have been good stewards of public funds with the highest credit rating for our fiscal management.  While improving our facilities we have provided more jobs and recruited workers in the neighborhoods of our highest poverty students.  We have also developed a Climate Action Plan to reduce the impact of our facilities on the environment.

As we approach 2020 we will begin this year to address Vision 2030.  We want to expand the diversity of our teaching staff for the benefit of the students.  We want to expand preschool and our early literacy programs.  We want to find ways to fund our schools that fulfills the desires of our community.  We are all dedicated to continue that work.



What is SD Unified doing with $1.3 billion?

We needed a $59M increase over this year to maintain the status quo at San Diego Unified.  We would need $350M more to provide all of the teachers, counselors and nurses to meet the public’s expectations for our schools.  But what is provided by the $1.3B that we currently have?


  • Some of the smallest class sizes in the state
  • Broad and challenging curriculum offered at schools in every neighborhood
  • Specialized programs, including International Baccalaureate, STEM and STEAM programs
  • Project based learning environments
  • Over 6,000 dedicated teachers working with our 105,000 students
  • Over 6,000 support staff that keep our schools operating
  • Comprehensive healthcare benefits for all staff and their families
  • Advanced learning opportunities including AP courses and community college courses
  • Innovation Centers for individual remediation and acceleration
  • Highest graduation rate for urban districts in California
  • Significant movement towards closing the achievement/opportunity gap
  • Rigorous requirements for meaningful graduation for college and/or career
  • Pathway programs for specific career fields
  • Internships for high school students
  • Scholarship level athletic programs in a variety of sports
  • Junior ROTC for high school students
  • All students learning a world language
  • Language immersion programs in Spanish, French and Mandarin
  • Arts and music in every school with many award winning programs
  • Collaboration on K-3 literacy programs
  • Nationally recognized technology in the classroom for personalized learning and collaboration
  • Meeting legally required Individualized Education Plans for 15,000 special education students
  • Specialized assistance to 27,000 English Language Learners
  • Programs for 22,000 GATE students
  • Character education, conflict resolution and restorative justice programs
  • Civics education and service clubs for citizenship and leadership development
  • Nutritional lunch for all students regardless of ability to pay and breakfast for many
  • Professional development for staff
  • Professional Learning Communities for teaching staff
  • Maintenance of almost 200 district facilities
  • Democratic engagement of stakeholders through school sites and cluster councils
  • Family and community engagement programs
  • Advocacy for state and federal funds, resulting in millions of dollars for our schools

This list is just a start.  We are doing so much more. What have we left off the list?  We can improve a lot in all of the above areas and we could do so much more with full and adequate funding.  But we will continue to look at no cost and low cost options to continue our work to create Quality Schools in Every Neighborhood under Vision 2020.

For next year we needed a $59M increase for status quo.  We will receive about $25M.  That leaves a $34M shortfall.  That represents about a 2.6% cut, which needs to be made as far away from the classroom as possible.

Governor increases budget, but falls short

The Governor’s proposed budget has been announced and now we can begin to do real planning on the San Diego Unified budget.  We needed an increase of $59M just to maintain status quo without any across the board salary increases, as explained below.  It includes increased pension costs, automatic step and column raises and increased healthcare costs.

The good news is that the Governor is completing the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula early.  The bad news is that the money dedicated to ongoing expenses is less than half of the $59M needed.  The exact amount for San Diego Unified is yet to be determined, but it is estimated to be around $25M. The increase just to our payroll costs is actually more than the amount the Governor is giving us.

The cuts will not be as deep as originally anticipated, but there still will be a need to make cuts.  I hope that this can be done primarily at the central office level to protect the schools and classrooms.  But even central office cuts will have an effect, perhaps longer times waiting on hold for the district office.

District staff recently issued a survey for all stakeholders to get a sense of priorities when cuts are made.  I think that the first reaction of most parents and others is to say NO to all cuts.  As a board member that is what I would like to do. All of these cuts are distasteful, but we have to make choices about what is most important. Increasing class size is not on the list.  Small class size has consistently been a priority of our stakeholders over the years. We have maintained smaller class sizes than many other districts.  Even with the budget shortfall we are still trying to protect class size.

With the ongoing inadequate funding of public education in California every budget year continues to be a challenge.  We have no choice but to live within our means. But I will continue to advocate for full and adequate funding for our schools.  We must overhaul Proposition 13 to close the commercial loophole.  We also need to have a means to raise funds locally for our own schools.

Last year we had extensive staff reductions to cut $124M from our budget.  This included eliminating 350 certificated/teaching positions, cutting many positions of classified support staff and a reduced work year for most employee groups.

Another part of the Governor’s budget was the inclusion of a significant amount of one-time funds that are not included in the ongoing budget.  This is estimated to be about $29M, but cannot be counted on in future years.  It can be used to pay down debt and one- time expenses.  If we were to use those funds for ongoing expenses we would create a giant hole in the 2019-2020 budget, possibly doubling or tripling the shortfall for that year.  The proverbial “kicking the can down the road” would come back to bite us.

As I have said before, I am committed to an open and transparent process with our stakeholders for the new budget.  I am eager to hear any ideas about better ways to cut the budget that are legal and that allow us to fulfill our educational mission.   The actual budget numbers, projections and assumptions are often disputed by one group or another.  If that is the case, I will call for a neutral party to review the numbers, so that we are all working with the same set of numbers.  This is one way that we can create better trust and confidence in the process.  I will keep you posted about what I know each step along the way.

San Diego Unified Budget Primer

San Diego Unified Budget Primer

The total operating budget for San Diego Unified in 2017-2018 is $1.3B. This does not include construction bonds from Props S and Z.  The budget includes $1.15B from the state and $94M from the federal government and $60M from local funds and transfers.  Some of the funds are restricted (such as Title I for supplemental programs for students in poverty).  The state’s new Local Control Funding Formula gives extra funds to the district to assist English Language Learners, students on free lunch program and foster youth

The main part of the budget is the Unrestricted General Fund.  This is the largest fund, which must be used to meet the academic needs of all of San Diego Unified’s students.  The amount of the General Fund Unrestricted in 2017-2018 is $1.07B.

The bulk of our funds are determined by the legislature and the Governor.  The only locally approved funds are the Proposition S and Z bond funds, which can only be used for construction and technology. California ranks 46th among all of the states in education funding based on per pupil funding, even though the California Constitution calls for California to spend the average of the top ten states. Proposition 98 calls for 40 percent of the state budget to be spent on K-14 education. (This was meant to be a floor, but has become a ceiling.  Furthermore, under certain circumstances the Prop 98 minimum is suspended.) Currently, San Diego Unified is funded by the state with a base fund per pupil ranging from $7,301 to $8,938, depending on grade level.

San Diego Unified has balanced its budget every year, but not without sacrifice.  How do we start the budget process with a shortfall? If the cost of status quo services goes up more than the increase in funds from the state we have a shortfall.  For example, to maintain the status quo next year (the same programs and staff levels) will require a state increase of $59M due to increases in pensions costs mandated by the state, automatic longevity raises for staff, health care increases and other increases or loss of funds.  We must make up this shortfall just to continue with our current programs and staff even without salary increases.  When staff must be reduced we are required to issue layoff notices based on seniority based on Ed Code/Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is partially mitigated by retirements and resignations at the end of the year, but layoff notices must be issued by March 15 per state law.

Necessary increase by state to continue current programs and staff (status quo) in 2018-2019:  

$59 million.

The Adequacy Shortfall is much higher than the status quo shortfall.  Adequacy Funding means that we have a reasonable amount of teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses and support staff to do what educators and the general public expect for our students. In 2014-2015 San Diego Unified calculated that shortfall to be $350M. While funding was increased during the following years, mandated costs (such as pensions) have absorbed some of that increase.  We still estimate the Adequacy Shortfall to be about $3,500 per pupil.

Necessary increase by state for San Diego Unified to provide all needed services:  $350M.

How are budget decisions made? Priorities are determined as the Vision 2020 Local Control Accountability Plan is developed with input from stakeholders.  Based on these priorities district staff must submit preliminary budget plans on December 15 (before the Governor proposes his budget) and on March 15 (before the legislature approves a budget).  During these months district leadership must make final budget adjustments based upon priorities previously determined and the amount of funds from the state.

We must live within our means.   For us to maintain our current programs we need an increase of $59M from the state for next year.    We will always adjust to circumstances and do the best we can with the resources that we are provided.  At the same time we will urge our Governor and legislature to reprioritize public education towards Adequate Funding.  We do not need to be one of the highest funded states for San Diego to meet its mission. Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula has taken a big step towards better academics through local control. But local control is not enough. The big step for the next administration is Adequate Funding, with which we can achieve our Vision 2020 mission of a quality school in every neighborhood and finally erase the achievement gap.  We are all responsible for accomplishing this as citizens, taxpayers and voters.




Board member advocates for later high school start times

School board  to begin conversation at October 10 board meeting

Early start times for high school go against the established research on teens’ biological clocks.  San Diego Unified Board Member John Lee Evans is advocating for the school district to eventually set 8:30 a.m. as the earliest start time for our high school students.  Currently most of the high schools start around 7:30 a.m.

Recently SB 328 mandating later start times for high schools was approved by the State Senate, but did not garner enough votes in the Assembly.  It is now up to local districts.

Research has shown that the circadian rhythm of post-pubescent teens makes it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m. Sleep deprivation causes serious problems.  Two out of three U.S. high school students are sleep deprived.  Later start times can result in reduced tardiness and absences, as well as students performing better, especially in first period classes.  A later start can improve driving safety, emotional and physical well being and academic achievement. Schools that end later are still able to participate in all athletic and other extracurricular activities. San Diego Unified already has a later start time at one high school, Kearny High School, which starts at 8:45 a.m.

Research has shown that later start times do not significantly affect students’ bedtimes, so there is a significant gain in sleep time.

Based upon this evidence a later start time is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and the National PTA.

Board Members John Lee Evans and Sharon Whitehurst-Payne will make a proposal at the next school board meeting to review the feasibility of later school start times of 8:30 or later for secondary schools while giving priority to the district’s high schools.  The district will not mandate a change from the top, but will give each school community an opportunity to review the research and petition the district for change. Any change will depend on finding a means to make the change without increasing transportation costs.