San Diego Unified is now projecting a higher deficit than it did in February, when it hashed out its initial plan to close an estimated $87 million deficit for next school year.

It has to find more than $26 million more to balance its books before the end of June, when its budget is due. And on top of that, the school district could face $31.8 million more in state cuts.

Why the changes? Let’s start with the new $26 million deficit. Some of the schools’ planned savings didn’t pan out — and the district hasn’t gotten all the funding it planned for. For instance, the school district is saving $2.2 million less than expected from its hiring and spending freeze. It’s spending more than originally planned on special education and getting less money to cover it, leaving it $10 million short. It’s also getting $8 million less to reduce class sizes than it expected.

On top of that, new changes to the California state budget could cost San Diego Unified an additional $31.8 million next school year. That could force even more cuts.

Or it might not.

Let me explain. Some of the changes were announced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his May revisions to the state budget plan, which schools must plan for.

Others are only being talked about by legislators and finance officials, but could cost the school district if California ultimately makes them, budget staffers said. The San Diego County Office of Education and financial advisers are telling schools to keep an eye on the possible cuts.

“We simply are caught in a very uncertain environment,” Interim Superintendent Bill Kowba said.

The possible changes include California eliminating $9 million in special funding that supports more than two dozen preschool centers in San Diego Unified, which would either need to close or be paid for with other school district funds. The state could also cut $18 million in funding for students with costly disabilities, some of which has already been sent to and spent by San Diego Unified.

The school board will start weighing cuts to close the possible gap next week. Some ideas include cutting vacant jobs and using federal funding for disadvantaged students to pay for counselors.

— EMILY ALPERT

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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