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Days after voters rejected a new tax to fund schools, the San Diego Unified school board started grappling with how to close an estimated $120 million deficit for next school year.

To balance its budget, the district is weighing whether to eliminate school police, vice principals and librarians, jettison up to 1,000 educators and close as many as 10 schools, among a long list of possible cuts.

Last night at a school board meeting, staffers proposed that schools might be able to choose their poison. To come up with at least part of the cuts, the school board could tell the schools and central office departments how much they have to slash and ask them to come up with cuts themselves.

The idea fits the trend right now in San Diego Unified to devolve decisions to schools. But it could also exacerbate inequities, trustee John de Beck argued. And school board members disagreed on how to decide how much each school should cut, debating how to balance the needs of schools with more poor students, which get federal funding for disadvantaged kids, with the needs of more middle class schools.

The school board didn’t make any decisions about what to cut Thursday night. It will discuss the budget again next week. School district staffers want the board to come up with its proposed cuts by Nov. 16.

San Diego Unified must turn in the first version of its budget to the County Office of Education in December. School district officials plan to warn teachers of layoffs then, too.

So far, the school board has avoided talking about any cuts that would have to be negotiated with employee unions. Teachers and other school employees already agreed to furloughs for this and next year, after unions struck agreements that cover their working conditions and wages for three years. Those who opposed the tax increase argue the district should bring unions back to the bargaining table for more cuts.

The deficit, originally estimated at $140 million, shrunk by roughly $20 million because of federal jobs funding. That gap is a moving target. The recently approved state budget is supposed to send another $30 million to the district, but the County Office of Education has told school districts not to count that funding. School district officials say they believe that the state could easily take that money away in the middle of the year anyway.

But the budget also faces new threats: Overstaffing cost the school district nearly $8 million, school district staffers told the school board Thursday. Some of the extra employees were requested by schools to meet specific needs; others are filling in for workers tied up in disciplinary issues. That cost will add to the $120 million.

For all the gory details from the budget talks last night, check out my Twitter feed.

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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