I got a chance to stop into the California School Boards Association conference today, where the elephant in every room is budgets.

School finance guru Ron Bennett, the president and chief executive officer of School Services of California, gave a sobering summary to the school board members gathered in the conference center downtown. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting $2.2 billion from California schools, which translates into a roughly $40 million cut for San Diego Unified.

“How many of you represent districts in California?” Bennett asked. Almost everyone raised their hand. “Well, you’re all financially troubled.”

Bennett broke it down this way: In a typical year, between 30 and 35 school districts have “qualified” financial reports, which signal that they might not be able to cover their expenses in coming years, and seven or eight districts are actually in immediate financial trouble. Last year the number that were either bracing for or immediately facing financial trouble was up to 240, he said, and the numbers are expected to rise to 500 or more districts this year.

Joel Montero, chief executive officer of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, was even more of a downer. He noted that only seven school districts have gone insolvent (it’s like going bankrupt, except school districts don’t file for bankruptcy) in almost 17 years, but five more are expected to go insolvent in the next year and a half.

EMILY ALPERT

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