The San Diego Unified School District continued to brace for the impacts of state budget cuts tonight, with the school board voting to either dismiss or reduce the hours of 1,200 employees.

The impacted workers include custodians, secretaries, truck drivers, warehouse workers, classroom aides and assistants who work one-on-one with special education students.

Because some of the positions were part-time, the equivalent of 829 full-time positions were cut. The affected employees will continue working until July and could be reinstated later if budget cuts handed down from the state are less severe than anticipated.

The district has already warned 913 teachers and other educators that their jobs could be cut. Hundreds of workers dressed in black to protest the job cuts at today’s meeting. Many urged the school board to cut “from the top” and cited dirty schools, delayed textbooks and other potential problems emanating from the cuts. The protesters crowded the lawns outside the school district’s Normal Street headquarters.

“Here we are again, balancing the budget on the backs of classified employees,” said Frances Fierro, president of the union that represents office, technical and business-related workers. During the district’s last budget crisis, San Diego Unified cut classified employees and ultimately avoided teacher layoffs.

“Deadlines will be missed. Costly mistakes will be made,” Fierro added. “… Lack of staff equals dysfunction in our schools. This is dangerous, and it spells out liability.”

Trustee John de Beck commented that the cuts to special education staff could ultimately cost the district if parents find the reductions violate their legal agreements with the schools and instead seek private placements paid by San Diego Unified. One worker urged the school board to find a “Solomonic” solution.

“We certainly could use the wisdom of Solomon,” said trustee Luis Acle. He referred to the Biblical story in which King Solomon is asked to determine which of two women is an infant’s mother, and offered to cut the baby in half. When only one woman protested, Solomon selected her as the mother. “But his initial solution was not a panacea — especially for the baby.”

Acle and trustee Shelia Jackson voted against the layoffs, but were outweighed by the votes of Mitz Lee, Katherine Nakamura and de Beck.

“There is no question is my mind that all of this is wrong,” Nakamura said.

“But I can’t gamble with other people’s money,” she later added, explaining her vote.

EMILY ALPERT

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