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San Diego Unified has almost wrapped up its budget for the next school year. Now it is beginning to peek at the cuts in store for the year after. How bad is it?

Interim finance chief Phil Stover summed it up best: “It is better only in the sense that it’s not as bad as this year.”

The school district is estimating that it will have to cut $127 million from its 2011/2012 budget after slashing nearly $135 million from its budget for next school year. It doesn’t help that federal stimulus money that helped San Diego Unified pay for teachers is due to run out next summer.

Bracing for those cuts, San Diego Unified has drafted a rough list of potential cuts that would reduce its workforce by 10 percent, including unpopular options such as eliminating vice principals, cutting back on nurses and counselors and halving the school day for kindergartners.

“There’s only so much we can do anymore,” said school board member Katherine Nakamura, calling it “a fight for public education.” She added, “This is a crisis.”

But it is still very, very early. Several factors could help the school district: San Diego Unified may float a parcel tax that could bring in $47 million annually for its budget starting in 2011 if voters pass it this November. Budget bills and changes at the state and federal level could also bring in more than $200 million. And the school district has a habit of listing dire cuts before it comes up with alternatives.

— EMILY ALPERT

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