LBUSD teachers union head warns of dark financial times ahead

The head of the Long Beach teachers union is warning of dark times ahead as the local school district grapples with the prospect of having to cut $210 million from its budget over the next three years.

“People should be very alarmed,” said Chris Callopy, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, which represents some 3,700 employees.

There is still much uncertainty, he conceded, as the budget process unfolds over the next few months. He and others are hoping that states and municipalities get financial help from the federal government, even in the form of a one-time reprieve.

Lack of action thus far by the federal government has sparked much concern among local education leaders. LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser said that during the Great Recession’s budget cuts, the district received $108 million from the federal government under the American Recovery Act. So far the district has  received $20 million in relief funds this year, while taking a bigger budget cut than they did in the Great Recession cycle.

“You’re going to see budgets from Gov. [Gavin] Newsom that look really dark, and that’s just where we’re at,” said Callopy.

Callopy said TALB’s expectation is that because the state budget won’t be set until close to the start of the school year, there won’t be major layoffs this upcoming school year. It’s the following year “that scares me,” he said—the year officials will have the full economic data and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be fully known.

The situation may be even more dire at other large school districts around the state. The San Diego Unified School District signaled that budget cuts will prevent it from actually reopening doors in the fall, and are already facing a loss of teachers due to budget cuts. The LBUSD remains optimistic about offering in-person instruction in the fall, in large part because of a healthy reserve of money set aside since the Great Recession.

Callopy said he’s hoping the district’s 9-figure reserves will help schools to re-open and to ride out the worst of the budget cuts.

“The problem is there’s no idea how much it will cost to re-open the schools or whether there will be relief funds to help with that,” said Callopy.

TALB has been proactive in making suggestions to the district about how to cut spending without laying off teachers. Callopy said he’s hoping the district will eliminate 2 deputy superintendent positions, with Ruth Ashley retiring and Jill Baker taking over as superintendent on Aug. 1.

“There’s 2 positions to eliminate and save almost a million dollars,” he said. “That’s a lot of teachers.”

He said TALB is also hoping to see the district prioritize saving teachers’ jobs over administrator leadership programs.

The other challenge Callopy pointed out is that with the retirement of longtime district stalwarts Steinhauser and Ashley, there won’t be many voices left in the LBUSD who were a part of the contentious negotiations around the 2008 layoffs, which saw the LBUSD pink slip 650 teachers.

“The pivotal voices in that process will be gone,” he said. “That’s a real concern to me—layoffs are really divisive. It’s going to be a tough couple of years.”

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