While researching my article on the upcoming school budget cuts, I talked to a scattering of school districts across the county about the cuts’ size and how the schools plan to cope. Here’s a roundup of what we discussed:

Chula Vista Elementary School District: Susan Sahle, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, estimated cuts at $11 million, cutting from an existing $245 million budget. Funds designated to keep class sizes small will likely disappear, making classes larger. Management staff could be asked to work a shorter year, because they aren’t contracted, Sahle said. Vice principals’ jobs may also be in peril. And discretionary funding at individual schools could be cut, eviscerating art, music and physical education programs, Sahle said.

“You can’t really take 4 or 5 percent out of the budget without impacting people,” Sahle said.

Cardiff School District: Superintendent Tom Pellegrino is expecting a $200,000 cut to the small elementary district. Like San Diego Unified, the district expects to lose its youngest and least seasoned teachers, and to see class sizes boom, especially in the upper elementary grades. Cardiff also relies heavily on “push in” and “pull out” teachers, who stop into classrooms to provide individualized instruction to kids, and also pull children out for extra instruction.

National School District: The elementary district is less certain about how much it will lose, and is counting dropping enrollment and slimming federal funds in its estimates. Chris Oram, director of student assessment and technology, gave a ballpark figure of $1 million to $2.7 million in cuts from a budget of $51 million. After-school music programs are a potential target of the reductions, as are professional development opportunities for teachers and other staff, who are normally afforded chances to travel and attend conferences.

Retirements could blunt the impact of the cuts, allowing the district to save money through attrition, but the district isn’t offering a retirement incentive to prod employees to leave.

“We’ve had cuts over the past four or five years,” Oram said, “but this is by far the most challenging one we’ve had to face.”

Borrego Springs Unified School District: Borrego Springs, an East County district with less than 500 students, is using early retirement incentives to encourage senior employees to retire, an approach that San Diego Unified used during the last budget crisis in 2003. Superintendent Consuela Smith gave a $300,000 figure for the cuts in 2008-09, and said she expected a $500,000 cut the following school year. If two or three employees take the offer, she said, the district could save by keeping the positions vacant for several years.

“If I lay off newer employees, the savings aren’t as great,” Smith said. “I’d have to lay off more of them.”

And here’s one more sad statistic: Grossmont Union High School District is expecting a $12 million cut from a $188 million budget, plus a $2 million shortfall from dropping enrollment.

EMILY ALPERT

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