Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

By Kirsten Andelman

Photo, left to right:  student rep Elizabeth Fox;  trustees Elva Salinas,  Chris Fite, Jim Kelly, Gary Woods, and Robert Shield

March 26, 2024 (El Cajon) --The Grossmont Union High School District Board voted 3-2 earlier this month to issue Reduction in Force notices for 91 full-time staff positions, after about 81 employees received district letters last week warning of looming “pink slips” for the next school year.

Board leaders blamed the state of California for mandating notice of the cuts by a March 15 deadline, as leaders in Sacramento brace for a looming budget deficit of over $31 billion dollars for the 2024/2025 fiscal year.

Of the eliminated positions, 53 were “certificated” and/or teacher positions, and 38 were “classified” positions. 

Of the 53 certificated positions slated for cuts, 10 were for already vacant positions, bringing the number of effected certificated staff to 43. Nine of the positions eliminated were for vice-principals (with 6 of those positions already being vacant), 15 were for “directors” (of which 2 positions are already vacant) and 7 of the positions are for “curriculum specialists.”

Of the classified positions, 19 were for administrative or office assistants, 5 were for interpreters, and the balance were for assorted coordinators and technicians.

“Don’t do this,” implored El Cajon Valley High School Teacher and Librarian Tania Jackson prior to the board’s vote.  “Use your powers for good.”

The No Votes

The votes against the cuts were made by Trustees Elva Salinas (Area 2) and Chris Fite (Area 1).  Salinas said pink slips “threaten stability of the workforce,” and suggested that the Board take the next year to review efficiency and redundancies.  “This feels very willy nilly,” Salinas said about the 91 proposed cuts. “It’s not well thought out.”

Her motion to not make the cuts was seconded by Fite, and they both agreed that the district’s financial reserves could be tapped to cover next year’s staff salaries.

Fite said that reserves are in place precisely to protect the integrity of the workforce. “This is our rainy day,” said Fite.

The Yes Votes

The votes in favor of issuing “pink slips” came from the three conservative members of the Board: Board President Robert Shield (Area 4), Vice President Dr. Gary Woods (Area 3) and Clerk Jim Kelly (Area 5).

Regarding the district’s reserves (often called its “rainy day fund”), Shield said this fund is already dwindling, having fallen from a one-time high of $19 million to a present figure of $8.4 million.  Shield added that teachers recently received an 8% pay increase.

Shield said that three years of extra federal funds schools received in the wake of the pandemic was coming to an end – right as Sacramento bears down on local school boards to issue pink slips in anticipation of the State’s looming budget deficit.

“We have to come up with a budget before we know how much the state is giving us,” Shield said, noting that the State budget won’t be available until summer – but that districts face a March 15 deadline to issue pink slips now.

“In 31 years I’ve never seen that,” remarked Trustee Kelly, who said he struggled to understand how the state could have swung so rapidly from surplus to deficit. “Sacramento set this situation up, but they let the public attack the board.”

Governor Gavin Newsom had boasted in May of 2022 that California’s surplus of $97.5 billion would ensure that educational spending was prioritized. But by early 2024, Sacramento began predicting a deficit of over $31 billion for the coming fiscal year.

Photo: Parent Walter Finn and others look on as School Safety Director Jay Farrington addresses the board.

“This is the compromise,” Shield told a rowdy crowd in the Grossmont High School theater , as supporters of the staff members slated for the chopping block took turns pleading with the board to vote against cuts. “It is our responsibility to think long-term. If we don’t act, eventually we’ll hit a wall.”

But Where Can Cuts Be Made?

At Tuesday’s meeting, much of the discussion centered on how the district may weather the coming storm. The “yes”-voting Board members agreed that cuts should be to non-classroom positions located at district headquarters.

Trustee Woods said the Board should prioritize decreasing class size: “It’s the classroom we’ve got to protect above all else,” Woods said.  “If we don’t take appropriate action tonight, we will have to take drastic action next year.”

Kelly said the district had numerous “administrators” earning over $200,000 – and some over $250,000 – annually, and that he would like to see these administrators returned to classroom teaching positions.  Asked after the meeting which positions he was referring to, Kelly declined to comment.

Shields said he didn’t want to reduce the district’s reserve funds any more.  As it is, he said, the district has increased the number of full-time positions by 14.6% since the 2017/2018 school year – all while seeing no increase in enrollment.  Most of those positions, he said, were for “management, supervisors, classified directors or coordinator” working out of district headquarters.  “Meanwhile, teachers say classroom ratios are bad,” Shield added. “Students have to come first.”

But Fite said that staff jobs should be protected before all else – even if that meant going into reserves.  “We can do things that don’t involve cutting our people,” he said.

But to the crowd in attendance, much of the concern focused on the health of the district’s special education programming, as parents and staff lamented that an underserved group of students would suffer the most if those positions were eliminated.

Parent Sharie Finn told the board that “general education” teachers at Santana High School are refusing to show up” at individual education plan (IEP) meetings, and that it is the students suffering the most from the dysfunction.

“What is happening to the special education teachers is disgusting,” district parent Walter Finn told the Board. “Those of you who are doing nothing are complicit. Fix it!”

Photo, right: School Safety Director Jay Farrington, whose job is on the chopping block.

Among the staffers reporting they had received pink slip warning letters was Director of Student Safety, Jay Farrington, who reported a slew of safety improvements he’s undertaken, including the establishment of “channel 7” -- a UHF radio station that allows safety communications to occur seamlessly between the district and the 8 campuses.  Of the eventuality that he will be laid off, Farrington said of the district, “I do believe I’ve left it safer.”

Taking a step back from the discord of the meeting, Farrington reflected on the Board’s difficult task of making unpopular decisions.  “’The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do,’” he said in closing, quoting Operation Desert Storm’s General Norman Schwarzkopf, who died in 2012. “’The hard part is doing it.’”


Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.