Jay’s way: Sacramento school board president sees drama ahead with Trump administration, looming deficit
Jay Hansen says his district, fellow board members ‘haven’t even had the conversation’ about bleak district finances
Jay Hansen became an appointed trustee of the Sacramento City Unified School District in 2012. Two years later, he campaigned for the position and won. Today, he is president of the school board, having been chosen by his fellow trustees to lead them.
It’s a big job. The district faces serious economic challenges even as it’s charting new directions and hiring a new superintendent. SN&R President and CEO Jeff vonKaenel recently interviewed Hansen and discovered that he doesn’t mince words when it comes to those challenges. (Editor’s note: The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
How is the district doing?
We’re in a really interesting place now. We’re trying to figure out ways to make Sacramento’s schools more of a destination district than in the past. That means creating educational programs that are enticing and exciting for students and parents.
I just created an academic ad hoc committee to examine what kind of school programs we have—what kinds of civics programs at which schools, and what kinds of technical-education programs at which schools. And then I want to have a series of meetings that look at our different academic programs to see what we can do to build those out at schools that need something special. Some people don’t realize that two-thirds of students aren’t going to get a four-year college degree. The reality is that, no matter what, it is not going to be the pathway that a lot of students want to take.
The question for us is: How can we help those students be successful when they graduate from high school? What else can we help them prepare for—trade schools, the military, the construction industry—so they are ready to start a career right out of high school.
District finances seem fairly bleak, in terms of increased pension and health insurance costs. At November’s board meeting, the prediction was for a $22 million deficit in 2018.
We have some really serious challenges. We have to be straightforward about the obligations made in the past. Previous school boards and negotiating teams frankly weren’t very good to their future employees.
We have a gigantic unpaid and unfunded health care liability; the district estimates the cost at about $620 million over time, and we barely have started putting money aside for that. We are up to about $15 million a year, but at least it’s something. We need to do a lot more.
How much, $30 million?
We would need to contribute about $20 million per year on an ongoing basis so as not to dig ourselves any deeper in the hole. That is keeping our current benefits and keeping our commitments to retirees. We have as many retirees drawing health care benefits as we do current employees. It was frankly a bit of malfeasance by the previous school boards and previous labor negotiating partners that they never set up a program to start paying for this.
How are you proposing to fix that hole?
We haven’t even had the conversation. There has been no recognition that there is even an issue, and that’s malfeasance in itself. Some people don’t want to deal with it because they don’t want it to affect current negotiations—salary raises and whatever else people would like to have. So they pretend that magically this money is going to appear in the future.
In addition, the pension increases the state has obligated us to pay are going to triple in the next three or four years. Those are fixed costs that we can’t do anything about, so we have to budget for that as well.
Our total budget, including federal money, is about $550 million a year. We’ve never gone out to a competitive bid for our health care products; that’s crazy, too. We’ve got to do that. We could save $4 million to $6 million a year if we did that, and then we can plow that money back into retiree benefits.
Why do the district and the teachers’ union have such an antagonistic relationship?
It makes no sense to me. I worked in the labor movement for 10 years as a labor representative for the Sacramento News & Review - Jay’s way: Sacramento school board president sees drama ahead with Trump administration, looming deficit - News - Local Stories - February 23, 2017: