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The San Diego Unified school board has tentatively agreed on nearly $22 million in cuts to slim the budget for the current school year in anticipation of a more than $40 million shortfall when California legislators and the governor finally agree on state finances.

“We are halfway there — maybe,” said school board member John de Beck.

While no final decisions were made and no votes were taken, board members shared their opinions and came to consensus on several potential savings:

  • Paying less money into the workers compensation fund. Studies suggest that the school district can pay less into the fund this year and remain solvent, financial staffers said. Estimated savings: $4.5 million.
  • Freezing all vacancies except for essential positions such as occupational therapists, attendance clerks, or teachers for four months. Deputy Superintendent Chuck Morris said that many departments have already stopped filling vacancies. Estimated savings: $6.2 million.
  • Pushing some custodial costs onto redevelopment funds earmarked to spruce up schools in specific redevelopment areas. This would be a temporary shift for the remainder of the 2008-2009 school year. Estimated savings: $9 million.

Other potential savings split the school board. Trustees disagreed over whether to make employees in the central offices take an unpaid vacation during spring break, an estimated $2.4 million savings favored by John de Beck and opposed by Katherine Nakamura and Shelia Jackson, who felt it would burden employees who needed those five days of payment. (Trustees Richard Barrera and John Lee Evans opined that it should only be done “if necessary,” a lower priority of cuts.)

They also sparred over whether it was prudent to spend down $4 million of their ending balance, the sum that the district expects to have at the end of the year. Chief Financial Officer James Masias said he felt it would be a responsible cut, but Nakamura and Evans said they would oppose spending that money.

School districts are still unsure exactly how much they will have to cut this year because the legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have yet to pass a budget. Estimates of the potential budget hit for San Diego Unified range from $40 million to $50 million. The cuts are especially stressful because they are drawn from the current school year, meaning that school districts are having to plan cuts in the same year they are spending money.

EMILY ALPERT

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