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Commentary: Off to a rocky start

By Garvin Walsh

“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the closing track on “Who’s Next,” The Who’s 1971 album, finishes with “the greatest scream of a career filled with screams” from Roger Daltrey, followed by his rendition of Pete Townsend’s now-iconic lyric: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Or, as the French are known to say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We got a dose of that at the December 13 meeting of the newly-constituted San Dieguito Union High School District board of trustees. Following the November elections, the majority of the five-person board now consists of three trustees who enjoy the backing of the teachers’ union: Katrina Young, Rimga Viskanta and Jane Lea Smith — the latter two being newly elected.

This alignment returns the district to the circumstances which existed prior to the 2020 election, after which, briefly, an independent majority prevailed. Plus ça change…

The question now to be resolved is whether this new majority will revert to old habits or find a way to avoid the drama, controversy, and public outrage of recent months. Based on the very first board meeting, they’re off to a rocky start.

Two items on the December 13 agenda suggest we have reason to be concerned.

First, the majority voted to conduct elections for the new Board officers without first allowing public comment. Justifying this process, Katrina Young commented that the public “can offer their input about what we have [already] decided at public comment, but if they are suggesting that we might change how we are voting by public comment, I think that would be not good governance.”

Unfortunately, that approach violates the law, which requires that the public be given the opportunity to comment about agenda items before or during board deliberation. This violation was the subject of a letter to the board appended to the agenda of the December 29 Special Meeting (3-C, “anticipated litigation”). Due to the illegality of this board action, the election of officers will have to be conducted again.

The second item of concern seems much worse, also involving a violation of the law.

Item 12-E on December 13 was a proposed amendment to the San Dieguito Faculty Association (Teachers Union) Master Contract, which was just approved last October. The existing contract provides for an increase in the district’s contribution towards healthcare insurance according to terms which calculate to be 6.15%, nearly in line with the 6.5% aggregate increase in the cost of health insurance across the district.

The proposed amendment, in contrast, would increase the district’s healthcare contribution by nearly 20%. Moreover, as a result, out-of-pocket premium costs for a majority of the teachers would actually decline. In return for that largesse, the district would get…nothing.

The difference between the contractually-required increase and the amount requested by the union is over $300,000 per year, which will become part of the baseline subsidy calculation in the years ahead. That money could pay for brand-new desks for all students in one of our middle schools every year. It could also fund the annual maintenance cost for the new swimming pool planned for Torrey Pines High School.

Unfortunately, someone’s got their priorities misplaced – it’s a great deal for teachers, not for the kids.

Being fiscally reckless is not a violation of the law. But hiding information about the matter from the public is. The limited discussion during the meeting revealed that Trustee Michael Allman had earlier shared with the other members of the Board summary data showing the actual cost of the proposal to the District. By law, that information must be made available to the public; it was not.

Even more troubling, when Allman attempted to address the issue during the meeting, he was interrupted by now-President Viskanta, who prevented him from sharing the information with the public and denied him further opportunity to speak. Viskanta’s action was purposeful, aggressive, and, by silencing Allman, an abuse of power. It was also illegal.

The nature of that encounter suggests an intentional effort to withhold information from the public. Given the absence of any consideration from the SDFA in exchange, it seems the new Board majority has launched its tenure with a gratuitous ki$$ to its union supporters.

This may be about policy differences, but the circumstances suggest that the majority is reverting to type, facilitating another corrupt bargain between themselves and the public sector employees from whom they derive power. Plus ça change…

Silencing the minority in a public body is wrong – a course correction is needed, which could put the Board on the right track. If there is to be a sense of comity and détente on the Board, it will be necessary for the majority to lead us there, with a willingness to listen to the minority and with reasoned and defensible policy choices.

Garvin Walsh is a resident of Encinitas and the San Dieguito Union High School District.


concerned parent January 5, 2023 at 4:05 pm

I am so relieved of the recent election’s outcome for the San Dieguito School Board. We just need to wait for 2 years to be rid of Allman. I find it very fascinitating that there are some parents out there that want to stick it to teachers and present them as the villains. Apparently, they are supposed to be everything for their students but not fight for a livelihood. No, it should not be bare bones! If Garvin Walsh and others like him have their way, teachers would barely be above water. Even if they are one of the highest paid in the county, the compensation is still insulting!

tmaddison January 5, 2023 at 8:50 am

Great observations, Garvin.

Fundamental to making good decisions on issues that involve financials is an understanding of what the true cost of those decisions will be. And of course where the money to fund them will come from.

In K-12 education, since most Boards are dominated by union-backed members there is a tendency to (as we see here) make those decisions in ways that financially benefit those who backed those members, not in ways that improve the education of our kids.

On one side we have parents – who have no financial interest in these things and only want what is best for their kids. On the other, we have people who stand to personally benefit financially from those decisions.

It’s pretty obvious who the “special interests” in these discussions are.

In 2021 the median total pay of an SDUHSD certificated employee was $115,813, median total compensation (including cost of benefits) $139,034. This is from their own pay records, obtained via public records request.

Just a 4% raise in that would translate into a benefit worth $5,000/year or more. Certainly seems like incentive to object to people who feel that money would be better spent improving the education of our kids.

I submitted commentary on the inclination of school boards to benefit their special interests over our kids to the Coast News after the last election, unfortunately they chose not to run it, but that tendency to benefit employees over kids in financial decisions is the biggest issue on our plate, especially heading into an era that will likely involve declining per student funding AND declining enrollment…

Thanks for your work!

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