Friday, December 11, 2009

An Educational Letter From An Educator

The following email was sent to all of the Poway Unified School District Supervisors by Dr. Don Phillips Superintendent of Poway Unified Schools, November 16, 2009. It left me with a very heavy heart. This gentleman is fully focused on his job and what has to follow to accomplish his goals. It is a preview of what the schools in California have to deal with. These problems are not invisible and they are not going away. It is hard to address problems that the general public doesn't fully comprehend. Read and enjoy, it is well written.

Dear Staff,

As you know very well already, the Poway Unified School District has faced two years of extreme fiscal challenge. The nationwide recession has affected California more than most states and has led to dramatic cuts statewide to K-12 education funding. For the 2008-09 and the current 2009-10 school years, Poway Unified has been faced with budget shortfalls totaling approximately $48 million. To keep our district fiscally solvent, we have made spending reductions totaling over $22 million, meaning real cuts to personnel and programs. In addition to these spending reductions, we have applied one-time federal stimulus funds to balance the general fund, implemented state-approved flexibility transfers of categorical funding, and utilized voluntary salary rollbacks of 2.7% from most district staff members to address the remaining $26 million budget shortfall These strategies have allowed us to minimize class size increases through the retention of teaching positions, maintain programs for students, and retain many support staff positions.

Through it all, we have worked together to provide our students with the very best education possible with fewer resources. Few, if any, districts have had the can-do attitude to make this happen, and I feel honored to serve as superintendent in this amazing organization.

Unfortunately, our financial woes have not gone away, and economic experts are telling us that, while it took two years to reach this point in the recession, it will likely take five years for the economy to fully recover and for state funding to education to return to 2007 levels. Though some economists are declaring the recession has bottomed out, California’s very high jobless rate, the absence of major capital gains taxes on income, and the predictable lag in tax revenue that always follows an economic downturn all suggest a slow rebound for state tax revenue and therefore funding for K-12 public education.

The dismal state economic picture will sadly have an additional impact on the District’s budget for the 2010-11 school year. Our challenge is further compounded by the fact that most of the federal stimulus dollars, as mandated by law, must be spent by 2010. In effect, we are currently spending significantly more than our ongoing revenue would allow, given the use of one-time funding from various sources.

We currently estimate that PUSD will face a budget shortfall of approximately $17 million for the 2010-11 school year. This assumes that we face no additional budget cuts from the state, which is unlikely given that state tax revenues are already falling $5 to $7 billion behind the updated projections for the current fiscal year. The only helpful relief on the horizon is the possibility of a second wave of federal stimulus dollars that could be as much as $2 million, but this is just a possibility at this point.

These state budget cuts and potential loss of one-time federal funds place us in a most challenging position. Our programs for students, and staffing levels that have survived the last two years of cuts, are the highest priorities in our budget. Reducing any of these high priority programs will be most difficult. However, the size of these state cuts requires us to consider options we would never have considered before. We will need to make reductions at every level in the organization, and we will need to explore combinations of very difficult cuts to reach the needed $17 million in reductions.

Finally, as a school community we are going to have to make choices none of us like or feel are best for students. However, I am confident we will get through this period and continue to meet the educational needs of our students in the best way possible.

While it is still early in the 2010-11 budget-building process, the financial picture does appear bleak. I provide this information not to alarm unnecessarily, but to share with you the size of the challenges facing our district and allow time to discuss and think about how we can best meet these challenges as an educational institution.



Ohio Loan Officer said...

When I was in school in the 70s, we had 32 students in my 8th grade class.
We had no hot lunch--- we didn't even have a cafeteria! We ate at our desks.
The school could not afford books for spelling so we had to each bring in a new spelling word each week.
We had ZERO after school activities in K-8th.

My point being that a lot of the things now being cut were luxuries that slowly became necessities over the last 4 decades.

Anonymous said...

How about cutting the lavish pensions that teachers enjoy?
Their retirement includes payments that are twice as large as any comparable job in the private sector,annual cost of living increases, and free or low cost medical plans.
Many teachers enjoy the income of a millionaire in retirement.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Ohio Loan Officer

I know what you mean I went to school in the 50's and 60's.

It brings back memories of how my grandfather would always bring up his story of how he had to walk 2 miles to school in the snow in the winter time. He thought "us kids" had it easy when he saw the school bus pull up. I heard the story so many times, I can still picture him standing next to me telling it.

Back in the 1930's some Southern states had no schools to even go to for over a year and a half.

Public services are the first things cut when it comes to budgets and that is the real tragedy.

Thank you for your comments.

Ohio Loan Officer said...

Oh, I forgot to also mention---
During the Arab Oil Embargo in the 70s, heating oil prices skyrocketed and they had to lower the thermostats in the classrooms to 65. They couldn't afford the heating bills.
Imagine doing that today! Helicopter Moms would be banging down the doors of the school offices-- "My Johnny can't be cold"

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Anon 12:29

In order to be a teacher, you need a 4 year degree. There are no educational requirements to be the government official that determines their pay and benefits.

A lot of the mess our local governments are in is because it was easier to give retirement benefits which are paid in the future, in lieu of present pay increases.

Sooner or later the Piper shows up to be paid. If you remember how the story goes, the price was fair when the rats were everywhere. When it came time to pay the bill, it was deemed as excessive.

Thank you for your comments.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Ohio

It's still the same out here in California. All the public buildings are kept at 65 degrees. You have to open a window to get warm;>)

dearieme said...

"he had to walk 2 miles to school in the snow in the winter time." In Britain, you're not entitled to the school bus if you live within 3 miles of school. But our climate is kinder.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Dearieme

There was a little more to the story with Grandpa. I got a good laugh at the table when I pointed out to Grandpa that in the 1890's the auto hadn't been invented. So the distance you had to walk to school depended on how bad you wanted to get educated.

I have fond memories of living in England as a child. We lived in a house in Thorpness England with no central heating for two years 1953 & 1954. I think I prefer the warmer climate of California.

Take care

dearieme said...

We don't have central heating - it's strictly for sissies in our climate.

Tyrone said...

This CANNOT be! This is Poway! Surely, Poway is immune, just as their real estate is immune. *sarcasm*

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Tyrone

I know what you mean, real estate always goes up in value--doesn't it???

I think all of California is simmering in the same pot. The people in charge of preparing their budget for next year are fully aware of what is going on. It is just being swept under the rug with the hope that things will get better.

The home values in the Poway area haven't deteriorated like they have elsewhere. Their property tax base is a lot better off than the rest of the state.

Dr Phillips frank and open assessment of conditions in Poway tends to imply that a majority of the people in charge are keeping quiet for one reason or another.

Take care

Tyrone said...

Just saw this over at Calculated Risk and thought it was very fitting with this post:

Fairfield, which has built some 64,000 apartments, condominiums and off-campus student-housing units throughout the country, failed amid an inability to refinance debt or sell investment properties.

A Fairfield spokeswoman confirmed that investors including the Morgan Stanley fund and CalSTRS (California State Teacher's Retirement System) would be wiped out by the bankruptcy but said they would continue as joint-venture partners on Fairfield projects.

Shift said...

Oh yeah, the 70s, those were some tough times. I had to walk to school, had no internet, no heat or cooling, no hot lunch. These punk kids have it all.

We should cut the school budgets to the point that these little sh!ts are doing there fancy book learnin in cardboard boxes. That'll learn em something REAL.

I remember hearing old people talk this sort of trash in the 70s. I remember thinking: OLD people suck! Now I'm in my 40s and am surprised to hear morons talking this "I had it sooooo hard" garbage about the 70s.

Check this out: The 70s were NOT the ice age. We had it EASY!

In the 70s my father made enough money working at a copper mine that my mom could stay home and raise me and my two sisters. We had electricity, two cars, a television, central heating, and an evaporative cooler (for the Arizona summer). I had my own bicycle. Late in the 70s my family even had a home video game system (pong). I even got to have a job selling newspapers and was able to buy a dirt bike. I had a great time with my friends and my parents never worried about me playing in the neighborhood unattended.

I grew up in Tucson Arizona. Perhaps the people posting about the hellish 70s were raised in someplace even less cosmopolitan than a city in the middle of the desert and by someone of more modest means than the son of a copper miner.

To all of you old jerks: Complaining about how difficult it was in the 70s is PATHETIC!

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Tyrone

My son heads to college next year, maybe I can buy him one of those apartments--a-dollar-down-moves-you-in FANNIE MAE loan.

I thought CALPERS was the big cookie. There are other little cookies like CalSTRS? I'm going to crank up Google and learn more.

Thanks for the housing tip.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Shift

The slant of the comments on having it rough when we went to school were all tongue in cheek.

I think you miss the point of this letter. Maybe I should have given a little more background. The California legislature is out of money and there are only four places that they can cut: Education, Law Enforcement, Fire and Public Services.

Dr. Phillips is the head of a school system, a public official. He is the only person I have seen stand up and tell you what is being done to our education system by the state legislature.

Our school system is not responsible for this economic mess but our kids get to pay for it.

Not to put words in Dr Phillips mouth, but if you read between the lines--it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

This email was an internal memo to just his staff not something for public consumption. He graciously consented to let me publish it.

Poway is probably one of the top deep pocketed school districts in the nation. So from there you have a pretty good idea of what is happening elsewhere. The view is not pretty.

Thank you for your comments

Take care

Anonymous said...


The Man is brave to speak the truth. Not sure what the end game is for education. You're right though the students will get to pay because the unions will cling to their contracts to try and maintain a system that is broken. I have to laugh in Nova Scotia we just elected new premier. He promised to cut the deficit reduce taxes and increase services. He got massive majority. Based on those results most people in Nova Scotia likely also believe in Santa.

Merry Christmas all


Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Rob in Nova Scotia

Great to hear from you. Santa has a full bag, nobody is sure what's in it.

The thing that troubles me is Congress is trying to out do Santa and nobody knows what's in that bag either.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I see my commentary on education was deleted. Boy, that sure is bias to the extreme. Not allowing differing or opposing viewpoints.

I can see that you Jim are very locked into and protective of the American educational system.

And you're sending your son to college next year too. Hope it is for a professional/technical education that will have some value and not some worthless curriculum that won't do much for his earning capacity.

I think it is ridiculous that kids go to college with the idea of trying to determine what they want to do (bass ackwards). Or they come out with a degree that is useless in our real world society and wind up working in a completely different field (having wasted 4 valuable years of their lives).

Anonymous said...


I get your point, and I agree that educating the next generation is a priority - all the moreso when we are burdening them with the costs of our current largess. But cutting government funds could be seen as an opportunity for our communities to return to bake sales (off campus, of course, since sugar-laden snacks are verboten), parent volunteers, and general community involvement.

By pushing all of our expenses to distant powers-that-be, we have traveled quite far from community involvement. It used to be that you got mad and then raised funds to prevent loss of services - now you get mad and hire a lobbyist, or else get mad and shrug it off and go about your business. When the powers-that-be lose the ability to play Santa, we may find a benefit in involved communities overseeing programs to prevent waste.

My native-Californian spouse tells of his Boy Scout troop trying to clean up a park in the 60s. The local government refused - the union contract specifically prohibited using volunteer labor in public properties of any sort. That is wasteful. Insanely wasteful. I know families are different now, and stay-at-home parent/chauffers are hard to find, but children haven't changed much. Meaningful contribution still builds self-esteem and character.

It will be difficult to change from the lobby-for-what-matters mindset, but if it leads to direct involvement, voters truly understanding the issues, and communities that feel a real connection to local causes, there is a silver lining to the pain.

Rob in NS said...


I wish I could send picture of my school up until Grade four. It was small school and had about 100 students. When they closed it down to send us to consolidated school with all the bells and whistles we stood in front for one final picture. All the students three teachers and a janitor with our small school behind us. None of us looked very prosperous but school and all the clothes we were wearing were bought and paid for. The kids in grade 4 today look prosperous but they are wearing clothes their parents bought with money they will have to pay back twenty years from now.

Anonymous said...

Union contracts are wonderful. I did volunteer work at the local zoo. A tree branch was interferring with the door to the bird cage. I could have cut it off in about 2 minutes.
But, the union contract would not allow anyone but a landscape employee (salary and benefits- $100,000. per year.) to cut a tree branch.
After filing out a work order, it only took 3 weeks to get the job cone.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Anon 10:58

When it comes to anonymous posts I am a little less tolerant. I deleted 4 post and also my answer to one of them. Your post could have been a follow up to one already posted and got deleted also. No harm meant. I try to keep the thread somewhat focused.

Two of the posts quoted statistics with no documentation. It is very easy to google statistical claims to check them out. If a person wants to state a couple of facts and from that deduce that a conclusion, I wouldn't delete it.

The original letter (the posted article) pretty much displayed the financial problems facing the schools that was brought about by government. The comments deleted had to do with how bad our educational system was, and were way off topic.

I am in no way trying to defend the quality of education in this country. It's a little like trying to win an argument about politics or religion.

Half of our government is claiming the recession is over. Dr. Phillips is pointing to hard cold facts that are in complete disagreement. So look forward to big cuts in police, fire and public service as well as education. It is the only part of the budget that can be cut. Just try to go down to the DMV in California to renew your license on a Friday--they're closed.

Thank you for your comments.

AIM said...

What is happening in education is just one of many indicators of what is to come.

The recession is over? Balderdash!
We'll most likely have a double dip recession. And then in another year or two the general consensus will be that we are and have been in a depression.

Obama administration, Congress, The Fed, etc. are all working their butts off to get a "recovery" and hide what is really going on. (Bernanke, Man of the Year?!?!?!).

How many people are on food stamps now? Over 30 million? Wouldn't you say that food stamps are the equivalent of the soup lines of the 1930's.

Look at U6 unemployment... its depression level.(We need 350,000 new jobs per month for 5 years to get back what we lost, plus add the 100,000/month needed for population increase... fat chance, there is no way those jobs are coming back and there isn't any new technology being created for new jobs, plus government is suppressing small business which is responsible for 75% of new jobs.)

Look at the amount of created fiat money and credit just waiting to burst out of the dam and destroy the remaining purchasing power of the USD.

Look at our trade imbalance.

They can use all of the smoke and mirrors they want, hold off the inevitable with all the sleight of hand and skullduggery legislation they want, falsify statistics all they want... depression is here, hidden under the veneer.


Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi An Inquiring Mind

I agree with you. Of course, you and I are considered doomsayers by a lot of readers--me for the name of my blog and you for agreeing with me, but when the head of a school district with no ax to grind steps up to the plate and hits a home run, it is time for the rest of the world to wake up and notice the odor of burnt toast.

Probably the thing you and I need to realize, is that John Q. Public wants to wake up with an optimistic outlook in the morning (the warm and fuzzy feeling). Tiger Woods comes to mind. He's hoping for a return to the way things were, and is facing something ugly (reality).

I think there is about 5 steps in the process, and right now the world is in the denial stage. The irritating thing about that, is it is only step one.

Have a Merry Christmas AIM

Take care

Anonymous said...


You're absolutely right about denial stage. Everyone calls me a Doomer and if I'm Bold enough to give my opinion about current economic state to my wife, parents or anyone else with the misfortune of having to listen to me they get that thousand yard stare. This denial stage has potential to last years. In the meantime I've adopted the attitude of "que sera sera". As long as my paycheque doesn't bounce life is good. That said my major purchases for next few years will be beer and chips so I can watch this thing unfold.

Rob in NS

Merry Christmas

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Rob

There is no denial as far as chips go, they have already doubled in price, beer shouldn't be far behind. Beer is $1.50 a bottle retail where a 1.75 liter of gin is $10. Beer has gotten too expensive for me.

The thing that cracks me up is the rise in price for cigarettes. If the price gets to $10 a pack everyone will quit which is a good thing. That would mean less government tax revenue and at the same time people would live longer and collect more retirement.

We live in interesting times.

Take care

Merry Christmas everyone and God bless.

Anonymous said...


you give people too much credit. Smokes are over 10 bucks a pack here in Nova Scotia and have been for years and I still drve by hospital seeing people with IV's stuck in their arms smoking in the Parking Lot. Even when it is cold. Proof positive that old saying "you can't legistlate against stupidity" is the wisest thing I have ever heard....

rob in ns

Cracker said...


While it's true the pervasive prosperity of the recent past is gone, doomsday is nowhere near. This country's physical infrastructure is intact. We have the capacity to produce as much today as we did 3 yrs ago. Natural resources are still abundant. Our population is well educated and innovative.

I think it's important to put to rest the idea that we're all going to sink into a sand hole like dumb camels in the near future. Sorry, not gonna happen.

What is happening is the economy is resetting to normal prosperity. That means everyone, including education, must adapt by downsizing. It's not enough to say you've cut 30%. Keep downsizing until your expenses equal your income. Basic math. It's something a 3rd grader can figure out.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Anon 6:18

It sounds simple enough, but there is one problem. California has to cut about 40% from its next budget. 70% of it is fixed and the other 30 percent is schools, fire, police and state government.

I'm not preaching doom, but rather pointing out that it isn't going to happen in an orderly manner. This is a train wreck in progress.

California is bankrupt and in a year or two will not be able to meet the payroll for retired state employees.

California can't downsize the fixed costs. We are in uncharted waters.

Thank you for your post and Merry Christmas