Payzant Tells Board of Extra School Funds : Budget: Announcement precipitates a fight over which cuts will be restored. Music program and salaries get strong support.


San Diego city schools will get $1.4 million more than expected to patch up holes in a budget slashed by $30 million earlier this summer in anticipation of heavy state cuts, Supt. Tom Payzant announced at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

The welcome news came in the wake of a $13.7-million windfall announced Friday--money restored by Gov. Pete Wilson to schools statewide. The additional $1.4 million escaped the attention of analysts in Sacramento until late Friday, and San Diego school officials only found out about it Monday evening, district controller Henry Hurley said.

The board was scheduled to decide whether to accept recommendations laid out by Payzant on Friday that would use the $13.7 million to rescind an increase in class size and a 2.6% salary rollback for teachers. The board vote was postponed until Thursday so employee groups could be notified of the extra money.

More money, however, means more squabbling over how to spend it.

To prepare for Thursday's vote, trustees heard two hours of public testimony Tuesday by teachers, parents and students with varying plans for the surprise millions, which will eventually be repaid to the state.

The $586-million budget passed by the district for the 1992-93 school year severely slashed sports, music, counseling, supplemental writing, nursing and sex education programs. Payzant's proposal does nothing to restore those funds.

Although trustees heard some testimony to restore funding for counseling and 10 nursing positions that have been cut, the greatest outcry Tuesday came over elementary school music programs, not funded at all in the current budget.

The music programs serve 10,000 students at 77 district schools, said Ann Marie Haney, chairwoman of the Community Coalition for Music in the Schools.

"We need commitment to a minimal funding level, for those who have already begun, purchased instruments and started playing," Haney said. "The parents have also made a commitment." Without elementary school music programs, secondary school programs will eventually perish, she added.

More than a dozen people--some of them too short to reach the microphone--pleaded with trustees to spare the music program.

Kristy Gill, a fifth-grader at Ericson Elementary School, said she has had a heart condition from birth that keeps her from participating in many activities. Music means a lot to her.

"At Ericson, you can't join the orchestra until fifth grade. I have waited for five years to join, and now I understand I might not have that opportunity," Kristy said.

Others adopted a more dramatic approach: Student Thu Ho approached the podium in a black dress with an outstretched violin in her arms.

"I would like to present to you this unknown object," Ho told trustees. If they refuse to reinstate elementary school music programs, musical instruments may be unknown to the next generation, she pointed out. And today's nascent musical genius will go to waste.

"Who knows? There could be a Beethoven or Mozart or Bach out there waiting," she said.

Patrick Henry High School student Kathy Herbst, 15, told trustees that playing the trumpet turned her from a shy, stuttering child into a responsible student.

"When you take music, you go for responsibility," she said. "It can give you a gift that nothing else can give you."

Some teachers also urged the board to spare the music programs, at the expense of teacher salaries.

"I have taught in city schools for 28 years. Although I don't like the idea of a pay cut, I'm sure I'll survive," teacher Edna Good said. "It is the sharing of resources with children that makes teaching worthwhile.

Although her comments elicited applause, the majority of teachers who addressed trustees cannot afford to share their resources much longer, they said.

A dozen teachers from a dozen schools approached the podium, each holding a giant mock cardboard check made out to the district. The amounts entered represented dollars spent on children out of their own pockets.

At some schools, teachers spent an average of $800 each on student materials, money that would dry up with a salary rollback.

"Please reinstate our salaries. We will not be able to continue supplying the schools in this way," said teacher Suzanne Caterson.

"Their time will now be needed to sustain their own families and supplement their reduced income," teacher Diane Jones said of her co-workers, who she estimated volunteered 19,440 hours to the district beyond their contracted time last year.

The teachers were introduced by Bill Crane, head of the San Diego Teachers Assn., who told trustees to adopt Payzant's recommendations, restoring salaries and reducing class size. Morale among teachers is low, and their trust in the board has been eroded, he said.

Cutting salaries and letting class size swell is shortsighted, pointed out La Jolla High School Principal J. Tarvin.

"Some of us are going to win, a little, and some of us are going to lose. Those who are going to lose are the kids," he said of the budget battle.

"We're in a battle. We've got to have the ammo to win it. We can't win with 38 or 39 kids in a fifth-grade class. Don't give up then for now."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World