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I almost always ask my sources in the education world “How are you?” when we’re chatting. With $80 million in budget cuts threatening San Diego Unified schools, that question has gotten some rueful answers recently — some downcast, some jaded, and some unprintable.

Yesterday, I was talking with Camille Zombro, president of the teachers union in San Diego Unified. I asked what changes she’d be asking for in the next round of contract negotiations — a bargaining process that will likely end too late to impact next year’s budget.

“Smaller class sizes, more preparation time for elementary teachers, more support for special educators, smaller staffing ratios for nurses, counselors, librarians and support staff. Adequate books, materials and technology,” Zombro said.

Almost all of those things are up for reduction or elimination in the schools’ budget crisis. I asked Zombro: Are those ideas realistic, given the budget situation?

Her response was telling — a reflection of the frustration felt by teachers.

“I define realistic differently than others’ definition of realistic,” Zombro said. “Right now, realistic means the state budget. But at some point, we as teachers need to say — realistic means what it takes to do this job.”

EMILY ALPERT

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