The now-annual bloodbath over what to cut from the San Diego Unified School District budget has officially begun, as the school board took its first peek at potential cuts tonight. School officials say this is the fifth year in a row that they have had to cut back budgets, a process that business and operations chief Phil Stover compared to the Greek myth of Sisyphus pushing a stone uphill over and over.

San Diego Unified is now projecting that it will have to cut $141.6 million from its roughly $1.1 billion day-to-day budget next school year, and Stover said that all of the cuts must come from its $689 million in flexible funding, not the additional $483 million that comes earmarked for specific purposes.

Stover added that only $52 million of that money is in the district central offices, so the cuts will almost inevitably impact school sites. Another $43 million are “fixed costs” like utilities and software licenses while $31 million are required reserves.

School district staffers have already drawn up a list of possible cuts to close the gap, including:

  • Closing 10 under-enrolled schools to save $4.5 million.
  • Cutting kindergarten back to a half day, instead of a full day, to save $16.86 million.
  • Eliminating the school Police Department for $5.4 million.
  • Upping class sizes to an average of 29 students in first grade from 24 for $6.09 million.
  • Halving the number of vice principals for $4.48 million.
  • Eliminating busing for magnet schools and integration to save $9.3 million.
  • Eliminating librarians for $2.34 million.
  • Temporarily cutting extra funds for magnet schools for $6.25 million.

Check out the full list for more on pages 10 through 13. But school board members Shelia Jackson, John de Beck and Katherine Nakamura questioned whether the list really included all the cuts it could. For instance, Jackson complained that proposed cuts would eliminate school police, but not the finance department.

De Beck called it “minimalist,” adding, “I want to see the whole doggone thing.”

Board President Richard Barrera, however, said trying to find more things to cut was the wrong quest. He touted the proposed parcel tax, Proposition J, as one way to reap local funding and avoid cuts. The proposed tax would bring in roughly $50 million annually for five years. Barrera also argued that voters need to push for a new governor who will protect school funds from deeper cuts in the future.

So is there a better way out of this mess than getting rid of librarians and shortening the kindergarten day? Let’s start a discussion. Where else could San Diego Unified cut, if anywhere? What kind of cuts are we not talking about that we should be?

Where else could it get new revenue — besides campus advertising, which it already turned down? And how could the state change the situation for schools? What do you think parents and community members should be lobbying Sacramento for?

Keep in mind that school district employees are unionized, so changes that impact employees often have to be bargained. And please be specific. If you say “cut the fat,” tell me what you mean. If you say “work smarter,” tell me what you mean. Please post your ideas and reflections here on the blog.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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