Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Final Letter from the Top Educator in Poway

The following email was sent to all of the Poway Unified School District Supervisors by Dr. Don Phillips Superintendent of Poway Unified Schools, February 4, 2010. If you go back to my December 11, 2009 post you can see how the problem has increased in size from his previous letter (3 months ago). I might add that Dr. Phillips has announced his intensions to retire in the coming months. I left his letter unedited. It doesn't imply great times for our childrens' future education or for the teachers who educate them.

Dear Staff,

I wish I had some good news for once. Over my past nine years as superintendent, we have made cuts in five of those years totaling over $48 million and now face additional cuts. As you know, we have made every effort to keep cuts away from the classroom by finding efficiencies in our system, narrowing our focus, and soliciting parent and community support. Through our collective efforts we have been successful, to date, in minimizing the negative impact of budget cuts on our students’ education.

As one measure of success, our Academic Performance Index ranks among the top 3 school districts in the state with 20,000 or more students, along with Irvine Unified and San Ramon Unified. Our students also excel in everything from robotics to theater and in all extracurricular and co-curricular programs, including athletics. At the heart of this success is you – our staff – who are dedicated and highly professional, working daily with our students, supporting the overall district operation, and seeking ways to make the system work, even with all of the reductions. I see evidence of this in our custodians, library clerks, administrative assistants, food service workers, instructional aides, administrators, classroom teachers, and others. Much like hospitals that cannot run with doctors only, schools need support systems to help teachers be effective and to provide a safe and orderly environment. I’m very proud and appreciative of your extra efforts during these most difficult financial times.

However, as you already know, we are facing yet another challenging financial year in 2010-11. Our initial budget projections for next year included a $17 million funding reduction due to the continuing state economic problems and the depletion of one-time federal funds, which provided some budget relief this year. Although the Governor publicly committed to “protect education funding,” his proposal actually results in over $2 billion in additional cuts to K-12 education, or an additional $7-plus million in reductions to Poway Unified. This means that instead of a $17 million shortfall for next year, we now anticipate a $24 million shortfall. As we scan the horizon, we fear there may be additional state cuts which would further impact our district.

A $24 million reduction, on top of the major funding cuts we have already made over the past two years, is almost unfathomable. We are committed to maintaining our core educational efforts, but as we keep cutting, this commitment becomes more and more difficult. We will all feel the weight of these additional reductions, both individually and collectively. We will be presenting our initial negotiations proposals to the Board of Education for all three bargaining units on Monday, February 8. We will obviously continue to look for additional solutions in order to meet our budgeting constraints. Nevertheless, most class sizes will increase and we will enter into negotiations around possible further concessions in total compensation. Additionally, we are exploring the potential of a shortened student school year from 180 to 175 days. I could never have imagined we would face such a dire picture in California and K-12 public education.

As we enter into the 2010-11 budget development process, we will be using the following criteria to help us prioritize our resources:

· Support college readiness initiatives and high expectations for all students

· Focus on student learning and student support systems

· Provide a safe and orderly environment

· Continue to seek ways to increase efficiency and effectiveness in operations

· Support and, wherever possible, minimize staff losses

On the legislative front, I am seeking state budget relief in the form of greater categorical program flexibility, elimination of class size reduction penalties, and attendance relief from H1N1 absences. We are also pushing to hold the line on additional cuts beyond the Governor’s January proposal, as the state will likely need to make additional budget cuts next year. It is essential that each of you, individually and collectively, reach out to our legislators and help them understand the impact of these cuts on our collective work and, most importantly, on our students.

I have written a letter to our community that provides more detail regarding the budget, my appreciation for your support in keeping student learning at the forefront, the fact that these cuts will impact our work, and the need for their voice in Sacramento to avoid even deeper cuts for next year.

While next year will be even more challenging than this year, great people and great organizations rise to great challenges. I know you are dedicated to doing your very best with the constraints we face from such deep budget reductions over multiple years. We will work collectively to best address these additional cuts because of our belief in the importance of the education of our students. Poway Unified is a very special school district, and we are committed to help keep it that way


(Dr. Don Phillips, Superintendent, Poway Unified School District)


Anonymous said...

Rolls Royce pensions for teachers will eventually bankrupt most school districts. No private employer allows people to retire at 55, with 90% of their salary, and lifetime medical benefits for the employee AND their spouse. see

Anonymous said...


Pretty dire situation for that board. I'm guessing this is being repeated all across America. Here in my hometown the Minor hockey association just ran out of money this week. Their solution cancel rest of hockey season. I wonder if that is next thing school boards are going to have to do.

rob in ns

Anonymous said...

24million. Easy, just have a bake sale and sell brownies for 10,000$ each.

Anonymous said...

Teacher lay offs have to be approved by the teachers union-
not the school administration,
not the school board,
not the taxpayers who fund this mess-
the teachers union!!!

Jim in San Marcos said...

HI Anon 7:43

Some of the pension plans sound very outrageous now that there is no money. Nobody really cared much while the punch bowl was full. The people owed the pensions are not at fault, but it will be these teacher that will take a hit on this.

I think you can blame the legislature. Instead of pay raises, they gave the teachers retirement benefits. That pushed the due date out about 20 years. Now it is time to pay the piper--and we know how that story went, the piper didn't get paid.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Rob

Dr. Phillips' letter will never make the newspapers, but 90 years from now it may be read by another group of people in the same boat. I have published several open letters from the 1930's that were "Moments in time." I consider this letter that sort of material. Nothing dies once it is published to the World Wide Web.

This superintendent has no ax to grind, but the problem viewed from his perspective suggest that things are going to get a lot worse.

I agree with you that this is being repeated all across America, it's not news---just right yet.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Anon 4:43

No one is being laid off---yet, everyone is getting a 4 1/2 percent pay reduction that goes along with the 3 percent from last year.

What can the teachers' union do? They don't write the checks. If there is no money in the account, you don't get paid.

Anonymous said...

Oh good, maybe with a purge if tge teachers and educational agenda of today - California might rise from the ashes of being one of the worse in the nation.

Ohio Loan Officer said...

The grade school I went to from 1969 to 1972 had:
No lunchroom -- so no hot lunches. If you forgot your lunch you ate nothing. (Trust me, kids didn't forget their lunch more than once)
We had a tattered book for math for each student. Three science text books for the class of 32.
WAIT!!! 32 in one class!! -- right.

In 8th grade each Monday every student brought in a spelling word for the week and on Friday we had a spelling bee and test. Any word more than 5 letters was acceptable if it was found in a dictionary. One week the word assigned to me was:

We may not have had pristine text books, hot lunches, ect.. but to this day I can correctly spell that word.

Anonymous said...

In San Francisco, they are having to increase kindergarden classes from 20 children to 23 per class.
One parent who was interviewed on television said this "disaster" was "horrible."
"If it gets any worse, I may have to pull my kid out of the San Francisco schools"
Motto for our times:
"It's all about ME!"

frakrak said...

Jim you can feel the frustration in this man’s words, and his dedication to his profession. We need a broom (a new one at that), to sweep clean this mess that is pervasive and doesn’t seem to stop with the economy, decades of compounding bad decisions have led us to this very point! The quicker we all just face the music and mark everything to market our collective mistakes, the clearer it will be to fix a direction and go forward.

Education is the same here as for you, we have a powerful teachers union that started strike action 10 months ago, leaving parents to re-organise their work to accommodate this selfish action. The state government caved, they got their pay rise plus and plus. We now have teachers that will bring home somewhere between $75K per anum (at the very least). This has added 2 Billion to our small state budget over a three year cycle, and the state budget is already in the red for billions. Teachers here get 6 weeks full pay for holidays, but with other perks of the profession it blows out to nearly 8 weeks per year, go figure!!

I have four children, they get enormous homework so I have to quite literally teach them at home to spell and read, add, subtract etc. Their school days are littered with easy times for teachers, playing DVD’s and a host of other activities that just infuriate me, perhaps I should send education Queensland a bill for my services …..

I am sympathetic to your educators plight, but in general terms in my neck of the woods I would close everything down for 2 months get rid of all of them and make “em take a hefty pay cut …..

Anonymous said...

Central Falls, Rhode Island just fired it's entire high school teaching staff, and all administrators, for miserable underperformance, while making over $75,000. a year for 180 days work.(see Mish's blog)
If more administrators had some balls like this, schools would turn around in a hurry.

Anonymous said...


I wonder if real reason the teachers in R.I. are getting sacked is because the money is running out.

rob in ns

frakrak said...

Need to “back up the truck” a little on this one Jim, after re-reading my comments I realised, just like that man at Poway, I to know teachers, administrators like him!! Teachers will convey the curriculum to the students to the best of their ability. Teachers are well trained in this country, but the curriculum has changed many times in the past fifteen years to reflect changing direction in education. The curriculum changes have been made because the so called ‘experts” demanded it. As a result we have had a second rate education and under-utilized teachers in this country. Apologies to any teachers reading this, the buck in my opinion, stops with government. Still don’t think you’re worth the money, and it would seem market forces are in play in the U.S. and soon in this country…

Anonymous said...

My best friend is a teacher making 70k a year he plans on retiring when he is around 53-55. His Dad is still alive and kicking at 88. So he could collect sizable pension for 35 years or more. I'm sorry but this is not fair to rest of us who have to work. It is true that teachers can't be blamed for every woe in education system but like the autoworkers clinging to contracts at some point the piper will have to be paid. People say that government has no option but fullfill these contracts but last time I checked the unions only make up tiny fraction of electorate. Years from now when I'm still working and my kids are buried under taxes to pay these entitlements there won't be alot of sympathy when the plug gets pulled.


Tyrone said...

Off-topic, but I thought you might appreciate this writing. It contains a very well contructed framework for possible monetary/economic outcomes. The diagrams present a nice illustration for the quantitative easing that is taking place. (the debt hole must be filled, and they'll take our savings to fill it, if that's what it'll take)
Greece is the Word

Anonymous said...


Great link.


Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Tyrone

Thank you for the link.

Coincidently, I just published a bit on PIGS that I have been working on the last 3 days. It's not quite as long.

Take care.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Rob

You are spot on.

The money is running out just as it did in the 1930's. The only place to cut is Police, fire and education.

It is going to get worse.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Frakrak

I agree the teachers are not the problem, it's the government.

After cutting the teachers, police and fire, then they'll trim Medicare and Social Security. I can hardly wait! Are we having fun yet????