Santa Barbara Unified School District Miscalculated How Much It Underpaid Teachers by $3.5M

Callie Fausey


As contract negotiations wage on, the $6.7 million by which the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) underpaid teachers last school year has been a consistent talking point by members of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, and more recently, students seeking better pay and benefits for teachers. 

But the district was wrong. 

The deficiency amount was miscalculated due to a clerical error. It’s not $6.7 million. It’s $3.2 million.

As a unified school district, SBUSD is required by the state to spend a minimum of 55 percent of its budget on classroom compensation. The district reports those expenses to the state, via a form called CEA. 

If the district doesn’t meet the minimum and is not exempt from the requirement, it must submit a waiver to the County Education Office, which then goes to the state for review. 

The original figure of $6.7 million corresponded to spending only 51.82 percent on classroom compensation, a 3.18 percent deficiency. The corrected percentage is 53.42 percent, a 1.58 percent deficiency.

[Click to enlarge] Every year, California unified school districts are required by the state to spend a minimum of 55 percent of their budget on classroom compensation. In the years since 2014-15, Santa Barbara Unified has barely met that requirement, and actually fell below the requirement on two separate occasions. | Design credit: Xavier Pereyra

When the County Education Office received SBUSD’s waiver, it found the error and sent it back. The district corrected the CEA form, and now just needs to send the waiver back to the County Education Office to review.

The district claims to have not met the requirement last year due to one-time COVID-19 funds and expenses skewing the ratio on spending. To date, the district has spent $36,187,454.76 on COVID-related expenditures.

Most of those funds went to family and mental-health services, supplies, and technology. The district didn’t pay teachers less, it said, but because it had more money in general, the amount spent on the classroom was a smaller fraction of the whole.

And the district is not alone in seeking an exemption.

Santa Maria-Bonita School District, for example, also had to apply for the waiver. As an elementary school district, it is required to spend at least 60 percent of its budget on classroom compensation, which it dipped below by 5.59 percent (about $13.6 million) last year. It, too, received a large chunk of funds for COVID-19 related expenses. 

Certain other districts that dipped below the minimum, such as Goleta Union, are automatically exempt from the requirement because they have smaller class sizes, or specifically, less than 28 students per individual class session. So although Goleta was 3.53 percent under, it is in the clear.

Many local school districts haven’t even submitted the form yet, because it’s not due until September 15 of this year. SBUSD submitted it a year early to be “very transparent,” according to Kim Hernandez, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services.

“We generally hit that 55 percent,” she said, “so to not hit it, we wanted to be really clear with everyone.”

In addition, the district did fall within the 80 to 85 percent requirement for spending on total staff compensation, staying steady at 83 percent. If it had not accepted those one-time funds, Hernandez assured, classroom compensation would have been at 57.3 percent — higher than any other year in the last decade.

Since 2014-2015, the district has just barely hovered above the 55 percent requirement, or hit it dead on. The highest it spent in that timeframe was 55.89 percent in 2019-20. 

It also turns out that 2022-23 was actually not the first year the district fell under the minimum requirement. 

In 2015-16, the district spent only 54.71 percent of the budget on classroom compensation. That’s a 0.29 percent deficiency — or a little more than $376,000. But when asked how that happened, and if and why the district didn’t seek a waiver, Hernandez said they don’t know. 

“I honestly couldn’t tell you.… It was before my time. It was before all of our times,” she said. Which is true. A majority of district admin are new hires. Some institutional knowledge was lost when people walked out the door. 

If she had to guess, it could have been that the district was able to rectify it with a salary increase in the following year. 

A look at the district’s annual budgets over the past 10 years show the district has also consistently projected to spend under the minimum. During the budget cycle, a lot of it is just estimating, Hernandez explained, before they know how much they’ll receive in property tax revenue and what the state and federal budgets will look like. 

“To tell the truth, we don’t really look much at some of those forms, because we know we’re gonna get there because we generally do,” she said. “That’s our core focus, to make sure that we get to that 55 percent.”

Even so, the Santa Barbara Teachers Association has said that the “bare minimum” isn’t enough. According to data compiled by the union, teachers in other school districts — Goleta, Santa Maria-Bonita, Cold Spring, and Montecito — make anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million more over their careers than teachers in SBUSD. 

Some of those districts also pay far above the minimum requirement. Cold Spring, for example, spent 66 percent of its budget on the classroom last year. 

Granted, those districts are much smaller than SBUSD, and high schools are much more expensive than elementary schools. But when looking at other nearby unified districts, such Ventura Unified and Lompoc Unified, the average monthly take-home pay and total compensation is still higher for many teachers. 

Both SBUSD and SBTA have made it clear that they want to reach a fair agreement on wages, and plan to continue bargaining in good faith. The next negotiation session is scheduled for January 11. 

Callie Fausey Education,News

2024-01-09 02:23:21 , The Santa Barbara Independent

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