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who are collaborating in developing a groundbreaking growth and development model to improve teaching, rather than the outdated evaluation system.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.

Guiding principles for SD Unified budgeting

Prior to beginning the budget process for the next year we need to declare our guiding principles, so that we don’t have to start each year at Square One.

First the top focus needs to be on those expenditures that lead to greater student achievement.  Second, we need to be fiscally responsible.  The key is to integrate these two items.  Bottom line: we need to live within our means.

How have we been doing the past few years?  Student achievement, broad curriculum and meaningful graduation have all gone up.  What about the fiscal health of the district? The structural deficit has been mostly eliminated.

There is a narrative out there that the district has continued to increase the staff while the student enrollment has gradually gone down.  FALSE.  Here are the facts:


2012-2013**      10,899

2017-2018           9,936

Net loss:        963 positions (8.8%)

*Number of employees is higher than number of full time equivalent positions,because some are part time employees

**Year before Cindy Marten became Superintendent

Certificated positions: From 6632 to 6054 = Net loss of 578 (8.7%)

Classified positions: From 3758 to 3425 = Net loss of 333 (8.9%)

Management positions: From 510 to 456 = Net loss of 54 (10.6%)


2012-2013       113,279

2017-2018      105,793

Net loss:          7,486 students  (6.6%)

We must continue to adjust staff upwards or downwards each year depending on student enrollment.  This is living within our means, because the state pays us according to the number of students attending.

Focused on student success while living within our means