More than a month after approving the budget for the San Diego Unified School District, the school board gave its final nod Tuesday night to three controversial programs and approved plans to expand the services offered to highly gifted students.

The board’s vote in favor of opening a truancy-prevention center and a new junior ROTC program, as well as the hiring of 40 new landscapers, brought to an end a contentious budget process that briefly paralyzed the district in June. After initially rejecting the proposed $2.2 billion budget, an unprecedented move, the board approved the spending plan but froze funds for the three programs to continue reviewing them.

On Tuesday, the board also voted to increase the number of special classes, known as Seminar, offered to the district’s most highly gifted programs. Unlike traditional gifted and talented classes, the Seminar program is designed to target kids that may be underperforming in a traditional classroom setting.

The vote proved contentious when a majority of the board said it would reject the district staff’s recommendation to raise the student-and-teacher ratio for the Seminar classes, in an attempt to keep costs down. By keeping the ratio at one teacher for every 20 students, the board members effectively voted to increase the spending on the program by about $1.5 million above the amount included in the approved budget. It was unclear where the new money would come from.

Trustee Shelia Jackson and board President Luis Acle both opposed the move, arguing that it would take away funding from other projects, including those serving the district’s neediest or worst-performing students.

“This is a little like dressing one saint by undressing the other,” Acle said.

Despite a series of closed-door meetings, the board did not come to a final decision on the future of Chief Administrative Officer José Betancourt, who pleaded guilty last month to violating federal conflict-of-interest laws for his work on a defense contract.


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