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Remaking the school district budget based on chosen priorities such as diversity and a balanced curriculum helped San Diego Unified officials scrounge up nearly $39 million more in potential savings — but it won’t be enough to close the gap unless California slashes less than expected.
That means that San Diego Unified can’t fund its highest priorities, said school board President Richard Barrera. “The reality is we’re going to have to cut much more,” Barrera said. “Much more.”
The school district is bracing for a roughly $91 million deficit. The $39 million won’t cut it, especially because only $21 million of that sum comes from the flexible funds that California is most likely to cut. Barrera said the next step is to ask employees to figure out what else could be slashed that they haven’t recommended.
The school board didn’t decide whether or not to make the recommended cuts on Tuesday night, when they were presented to the board. It will meet again to talk about the proposal on Saturday. Time is tight: If the school district plans to cut loose any educators to balance its books, it has to warn them of possible layoffs by March 15, a politically toxic step that board members are hoping to avoid.
“I think this exercise wasn’t even fun,” said school board member John de Beck, referring to the priority-based budgeting process. “We’re not any further along than we were when we adopted this process.”
Parents and teachers turned out to protest many of the recommended cuts, which include:
- Suspending educational programs in Balboa Park, Old Town and Camp Palomar for three years until money becomes available, cutting the equivalent of more than 61 full-time jobs.
- Consolidating two dozen departments in the central office, most notably the gifted and talented department; its services would fall under the deputy superintendent.
- Cutting back on “over formula teachers” — those who are added to schools even though their numbers don’t require the school district to provide them.
- Trimming transportation, in part by not busing students to Balboa Park and Old Town.
- Closing a center for teachers to get instructional materials.
- De-centralizing programs for students who need reading assistance and for parent involvement. That means shutting down the Ballard Center, which provides parent classes and other services, and closing three learning centers for students who need specialized help with reading. Staff said the goal was to provide the same services at individual schools instead, but parents were anxious about the idea.
- Phasing out a program that supports beginning teachers.
San Diego Unified could benefit from other savings besides the recommended cuts: The school district has already saved roughly $7 million through a spending freeze and other belt-tightening, giving it more money in the bank for next year. It’s also been negotiating with its employee unions for salary cuts of up to 8 percent, angering workers who protested at the school district Tuesday afternoon. The teachers union countered last week that it would instead offer three furlough days, which would save significantly less money than the proposed salary cuts.
— EMILY ALPERT