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In the throes of a worsening budget crunch, the San Diego Unified school board decided to cancel layoffs for 112 of its newest teachers, saying it could still cut costs anyway. Doing so relieved the dozens of educators who pleaded with the school board for their jobs to be spared.

“I need the money. I need to know I have my job,” said Jenny Trower, a special education teacher at Mira Mesa High School whose young son has leukemia, when she first spoke to the board Tuesday.

San Diego Unified faces a continually changing deficit as the state threatens new and different cuts. It now expects to have to cut more than $76.8 million on top of the $50.5 million it already agreed to cut in February through a shorter school year and other changes.

Its budget plan relies, in part, on slashing $16.2 million by cutting educators’ jobs. But trustee John Lee Evans said the school district could still eliminate those teacher positions without resorting to layoffs. Instead, it could cut jobs vacated by teachers who retire or move away. When that happens, Evans said, the school district would end up rehiring the teachers it had laid off anyway.

But board member Katherine Nakamura worried that so far, only 45 classroom teachers and other educators have said they’ll leave or retire and fewer than usual have said they’ll take a leave of absence. Canceling the layoffs means the school district has fewer options for eliminating jobs, she said.

“We are painting ourselves into a corner and we are slipping towards insolvency,” she said.

Board members Richard Barrera, Evans and Shelia Jackson voted to cancel the layoffs; Nakamura voted against the cancellations and John de Beck abstained, later saying his vote wouldn’t matter anyway.

Now the school board is faced with how to close its budget gap. It plans to make its choices next week, a few weeks before the state deadline. School district officials have suggested cutting extra classes to help teens pass the high school exit exam, ending a program that supports beginning teachers, eliminating discretionary money that schools get to meet the needs of gifted students, among other possible cuts.

— EMILY ALPERT

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