08/11/2020

Political expediency worsens long-term consequences

The Sacramento Unified School District offers us another example of how expediency can backfire.

Late last year, the district’s teachers were threatening to strike for higher pay, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg intervened, mediating a new contract that averted the strike and gave teachers an 11 percent raise.

Later, it emerged that the money for the contract’s salary increases would come from a reserve that the district had set aside to pay for rapidly increasing payments to the State Teachers Retirement System. Brown and the Legislature had required higher payments from school districts to cover the system’s huge “unfunded liability” for teacher pensions.

Sacramento County’s school superintendent, David Gordon, who oversees local school district budgets, looked askance at tapping dedicated reserves for new salaries and warned SUSD several times that its budget was faulty. Finally, in August, Gordon formally disapproved the 2018-19 budget.

The result is a full-blown financial crisis born of political expediency. The district must now redo its budget and deal with a teacher union contract it cannot afford.

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