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Are other school districts in San Diego County seeing the same trend as San Diego Unified — a growing share of the budget being devoted to employees?

I requested budget documents from the six largest school districts in San Diego County to find out. My fabulous coworker Keegan Kyle built this colorful graphic to show you the numbers we crunched and help you compare what’s happening in different school districts.

Let me walk you through it. The bottom part of this graphic compares the percentage of the day-to-day budget that school districts spent on employee salaries and benefits last year, compared to how much they plan to spend in the coming school year. The redder the box, the higher the percentage. As you can see, the numbers are going up — getting redder — in most districts.

The top part does the same calculation and comparison, but it’s analyzing a smaller slice of the day-to-day budget. That’s the flexible part of the budget that can be spent on just about anything. (School districts also get a lot of money that has strings attached, which is called “restricted” money.) The numbers are also going up in this smaller, flexible slice of the budget.

So why are we giving you both sets of numbers? Well, while the day-to-day budget is easier to understand and gives you the big picture of where school spending is going, financial experts caution that when comparing different districts, it makes more sense to look at the flexible budget. That’s because some school districts have a lot of restricted money they rely on, while others don’t.

The bottom line, though, is that San Diego Unified isn’t unique. During year after year of budget cuts, school districts have tried to cut other expenses like school supplies before cutting what they spend on staff. Employee benefit costs have continued to creep up.

What it adds up to is school districts spending most of their day-to-day funding on staffing — meaning fewer things are left to cut that won’t directly impact employees.

— EMILY ALPERT

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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