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Tonight the school board voted down a plan for four days of furloughs for workers who are not teachers, such as custodians, office assistants and aides who help children with disabilities, to save nearly $6 million for San Diego Unified schools. Bus drivers were the only non-educators excluded from the plan. Workers turned out in force to protest the measure, complaining that schools would grow dirty and children would be left poorly served if the furloughs went forward.

“You cannot touch any of us and not touch children,” said Johnny Colvin, a landscaper at Morse High School and a union steward. “You cannot. Every one of us up here does something for a kid.”

Turning down the measure means that San Diego Unified cannot turn to furloughs later to balance its books, due to deadlines for warning workers. A similar furlough has been proposed for teachers but has yet to be bargained with their union. The idea is not part of the cuts that have already been planned to balance what is now expected to be a nearly $147 million budget shortfall, but staffers warned that that deficit could deepen when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger releases revised budget numbers this week.

“I can’t be pressed to make a bad decision tonight because we lose the opportunity to make a bad decision later,” said school board member Richard Barrera, who voted against the plan. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The sole school board member to vote for the furloughs was Katherine Nakamura, who said that the plan was irresponsible in light of the deep uncertainty over the school district’s finances.

“I feel like I’m walking down an empty hall and each door is being closed,” Nakamura said.

EMILY ALPERT

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