The San Diego Unified school board balked at spending nearly $10 million on new textbooks and materials last night, complaining that it seemed ridiculous to approve $10 million for books while cutting millions from other programs — including slashing $10 million by ending busing to magnet schools.

Staffers said that their hands were tied because the funds are specially earmarked for textbooks and other instructional supplies. While California has given school districts the freedom to use some earmarked funds for any purpose during the budget crisis, the legislature did not give schools the total flexibility they craved — including with this particular fund for instructional supplies. Superintendent Terry Grier said that deferring the new textbooks could leave some schools with books that are 8 years old, and would not help fix its budget woes.

“You will not be allowed to spend those dollars on anything but textbooks,” Grier said.

School board member Richard Barrera was galled by the idea of spending money on textbooks while schools are trying to transition to digital learning, calling it “the equivalent of, 15 years ago, investing $10 million in typewriters.” He and several other board members argued that San Diego Unified should fight back against the state to get permission to use the money to plug its deficit.

“They’re not being reasonable with us. I don’t want to be that reasonable with them,” school board member John Lee Evans said.

But another board member, Katherine Nakamura, said she doubted that protesting the rule would work. She invoked the Williams Act, which requires school districts to provide adequate textbooks or instructional materials, and noted that schools are not yet operating in the digital era when big books will be obsolete.

“I’m not sure we are quite ready to get Kindles into the hands of every student yet,” she said, referring to a digital reading device. Nakamura added, “I don’t want to bet that Sacramento will roll over on this.”

The proposal was tabled to give staffers more time to determine which expenses, if any, could be delayed and to seek answers to the questions raised by board members.


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