Teachers, parents and students expressed outrage after the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) voted 3-2 Monday in favor of making drastic budget-saving cuts that could impact hundreds of teachers and district staff, not to mention thousands of students.
The meeting was filled with supporters of educators who are outraged that the South Bay school district is attempting to fix its budget woes with layoffs. In fact, the agenda item was moved from the end of the meeting, where it was originally scheduled, to the beginning.
Despite tear-filled pleas from several in attendance, the district moved forward with its plan. Teacher union representatives who got a look at the list of potential layoffs tell NBC 7 they include 205 teachers, 20 counselors, and 12 learning centers that serve around 1,300 at-risk students.
"The district is drowning in debt. This district is drowning in mismanaged truth," one parent said at the meeting.
District spokesperson Manny Rubio said the cuts are necessary to fill a $30 million budget shortfall that came to light in September 2018.
"Our goal just like everyone else's is to serve students and so what we have been tasked with as the Board of Education is to create efficiencies in our system, is to streamline wherever possible, and to keep things as far away from the classroom as possible," Rubio said.
Union representatives claim the cuts only make up for 10% of the $30 million gap.
"Everything you are proposing is going to gut this district and kill this community and hurt our kids," a parent told district leaders.
The district is required to give layoff notices to certificated employees by March 15, though the notices aren't a final indication a staff member has been laid off.
Layoffs would take effect June 30, according to the district superintendent.
In 2018, the County Office of Education (COE) said Sweetwater's budget overstated how much money it would actually receive and understated how much money it was budgeted to spend, specifically on salaries and benefits.
Since then, the SUHSD has been reworking and making budget cuts, offering early retirement and cutting programs in an attempt to make up for the deficit.
The district has been criticized for using the Mello-Roos funds -- which come from taxes on homeowners and is supposed to be used for construction, renovation and modernization of schools in the district -- to meet day-to-day operating expenses.
Because the district didn't pay back the funds by June 30, the district is out of compliance with the rules governing Mello-Roos borrowing.
In August 2019, the SUHSD refused to accept a no-risk loan from the COE to help it pay back the $12 million borrowed from the Mello-Roos fund. The district said it is in position to repay its debt to the Mello-Roos, with interest, by 2020.
A community activist told NBC 7 he has never seen the kind of anger he saw Monday night in his eight years of attending board meetings.