Our reporting relies on your support. Contribute today! 

Help us reach our goal of $250,000. The countdown is on!

Magnet schools will have to pare back on their budgets next year in the San Diego Unified School District. Adult education is abolished for now. Clinics that aim to stop students with mental health issues from dropping out will be gone. And central offices must cut back on millions in equipment and supplies.

Those were some of the choices that the San Diego Unified school board made on Tuesday night to patch together more than $48 million in budget cuts for next school year. But its work is far from done.

School board members still have to agree on roughly $10 million more in cuts to close the estimated gap. They plan to meet again on Saturday morning to figure out how to pare those remaining millions.

That means that while the school board has so far steered clear of deeper cuts to gifted and talented education, spared classes to help teens pass the high school exit exam and kept a program for pregnant and parenting teens intact, it could still end up slashing those programs to scrounge up more money. Ideas floated by individual school board members that got little traction, such as eliminating all the newly chosen area superintendents or canceling a recent batch of pay hikes for budget staffers, could still be revived.

Board members will have to agree to savings out of a shorter list of unpopular ideas that they have so far avoided, such as eliminating nursing assistants, reducing the ranks of vice principals or ending student programs in Old Town, Camp Palomar and Balboa Park. The choices are slimmer and uglier.

“There’s nothing on this list that any parent wants,” said school board member Katherine Nakamura.

The cuts the school board agreed to on Tuesday night include:

• Ending a program that supports beginning teachers to save more than $1.2 million.

• Cutting 5 percent of funding for magnet schools to save $300,000. Parents who pleaded to spare the funding said reducing it could force their schools to cut staff who run programs in French and Mandarin Chinese.

• Eliminating the adult education program to save nearly $1.9 million. Community colleges still offer adult education programs, but San Diego Unified would not have any program at all for at least a year.

• Getting rid of vacant positions to save more than $3.7 million.

The plan also hinges on a controversial move to pay for counselors and graduation coaches at poorer schools with roughly $12 million in federal funding for disadvantaged students, something critics argue is illegal. School district officials say outside groups and attorneys say the plan is permitted.

Board President Richard Barrera said they could lessen the remaining cuts if the school district nails down agreements with some more of its unions for furloughs and prods the state to change the way it is slashing some school funding. But the latter could be a long shot, and time is tight.

San Diego Unified now estimates that it faces a deficit of nearly $59 million after it already agreed to $50.5 million in cuts earlier this year. That deficit deepened after California imposed new cuts and its own earlier projections for funding fell short. It must finish its budget by the end of the month.

The budget battles weren’t pretty: Some parents were angry with the school board for canceling teacher layoffs. Teachers and other employees have agreed to furloughs that will shorten the school year, but school board member John de Beck and other critics argued that the district should have slashed pay.

One mother compared the school district to a listing ship that had given life vests to employees, but not to children. “Make some space in your lifeboats,” said Tamara Hurley from Scripps Ranch. “Prove to me and the public that this district really does put the kids first.”

Board members said they were still reeling from cuts that have grown deeper over the past few weeks as California poses new cuts and budget staffers recalculate how much the schools have saved.

The choices before them may be ugly, trustee John Lee Evans said, but at least they’re getting to choose.

— EMILY ALPERT

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.