The Coast News Group
CUTA President Sally Estep (far right) makes a presentation on why the board should delay the opening of Carlsbad’s new high school at the Jan. 16 CUSD school board meeting. Photo by Rachel Stine

Carlsbad teachers association urges delay of school’s opening

CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association (CUTA) has been pushing the Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD) to delay the opening of Sage Creek High School this fall, arguing that the district will not have the finances to operate a new school and will be forced to make further cutbacks to instruction and teacher pay. 

“When Sage Creek opens, we think it is going to be a wonderful school,” said CUTA President Sally Estep. “But right now, (opening the school) is more detrimental to the 10,000-plus students in our district.”

Given the economic downturn and the state’s budgetary constrains, CUSD has cut classroom time and school programs to balance its own budget within the last year.

Some tutoring, GATE and English learner programs have been downsized or cut, and classrooms have swelled to an average 38.5:1 student to teacher ratio at Carlsbad High School.

Teachers have made compromises, including taking pay cuts and giving up two preparation days so that only three instructional days instead of five were cut from the current school year.

“Based on the past, (the district has) asked for concessions, and we have given them concessions. But we expect them to be responsible with the concessions we have given,” Estep said.

The teachers association has been conjecturing about the district’s finances for next year based on previous years’ figures and the first financial estimates released by the district in December.

Consequently, the association is advocating that the limited available funds be used to restore the losses instead of opening a new school that is almost completely built.

While initial budgetary estimates suggest that the district will be facing a multi-million dollar deficit next year, CUSD Superintendent Suzette Lovely cautions against making assumptions or decisions before the district’s budget is made final later this year.

Lovely said that the current budget and revenue projections for 2013-14 are still very preliminary.

Additionally, California Governor Jerry Brown just released the proposed 2013-14 state budget, which the district relies on for determining its own financial state.

“We can’t start planning and actually budgeting until the legislative process goes through its whole course,” said Lovely.

Lovely said that she is cautiously optimistic that the district’s finances will be more stable than predicted by earlier estimates when the state budget is established.

If the district is facing a deficit once the budget has been settled, Lovely said the district would first look to efficiencies and cost saving measures before cutting programs, instruction time, or salaries to handle the difference.

“The last thing we want to do is cut instructional days and impact our students and their families and our staff in that way,” she said.

The teachers association claims that the high school population has not been growing and class sizes will increase if Sage Creek High School is opened, but the district says otherwise.

Carlsbad High School’s enrollment grew by 100 this year, approaching 3,300 students, said Lovely. The district anticipates another 100-student increase again next year, she said.

Lovely and other district staff maintain that class size averages and the student to teacher ratio will be the same with two high schools.

While the teachers association is unable to directly bargain with the district about opening Sage Creek High School, its members hope to have their concerns addressed by the district.

“We hope that working with the district, we can come to an agreeable solution,” said Estep. “We prefer not to make it contentious, we prefer to work together.”

Lovely emphasized the district’s appreciation for its teachers and the sacrifices they have made due to budget constraints in recent years.

But at this time, the district intends to fulfill its commitment to opening the new high school in the fall, according to Lovely.

Incoming CUSD freshman and sophomores will continue to be able to register for enrollment at either high school through Feb. 8.

“There’s an interest and a desire to fulfill a long term commitment that was made to the community,” Lovely said.