You might have read the Union-Tribune story today about budget pains in San Diego schools, including the spending freeze underway in San Diego Unified. But what exactly does that mean for schools and programs that still need to shell out money for everyday costs? What does it take to get some glue sticks in San Diego Unified?

Schools can get exemptions to the spending ban — and some things like medical supplies or fuel are automatically exempt — but it takes some time to get them approved. Parents at a community meeting last week complained that some services for children with disabilities were getting delayed by the ban as requests stacked up.

I asked for a basic rundown of who approves any spending — and how — to get a better picture of how the freeze works. Here is the decision chain for a typical request from a principal to do some spending for their school:

  • Principals send the request letter detailing what they want to spend and why to their school improvement officer. They also have to fill out letters for overtime or travel.
  • The school improvement officer reviews it and sends the letter to a budget analyst.
  • The budget analyst gives it a yea or nay and sends it to the chief financial officer.
  • The chief financial officer sends it to the superintendent or his designee for a final signature. (I have a feeling that being the “designee” is not a job that people are killing for right now.) The deputy superintendent also signs off on some of these.

Understandably, principals are trying to bundle their requests so that they don’t have to keep going through the decision chain for every last set of copying paper. If you have stories about how the budget crisis or the spending freeze is impacting your school, send me an e-mail at


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