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The San Diego Unified school board had ugly choices to make tonight. It didn’t make them.

The school board had to sit down and approve possible budget cuts tonight to meet a pressing deadline. But that deadline is a mirage: Things could still change a lot before the budget actually shakes out.

While the school district must send a report to the County Office of Education in early December to show how it will pare nearly $121 million from its budget for next school year, the new governor could totally change the budget in the coming spring. The legislature could change it again in the summer. And at least $30 million in possible revenue is in limbo.

“All bets are off,” said Ron Little, the finance chief for the school district.

So instead of choosing between the unpopular cuts on its long list, the school board just decided to send a whole list of $146 million in possible cuts to the County Office as possible reductions. It put off the painful decisions for now. But it didn’t let anybody in the strapped school district breathe easy, either.

“We didn’t want to create all the angst of pitting this program against that program,” said Phil Stover, the deputy superintendent who oversees operations. “We’re all still on notice.”

Possible cuts include cutting the school police budget in half, stopping busing for magnet schools and integration, upping class sizes for highly gifted students and closing as many as 10 schools. More than 1,000 educators are on the chopping block, including counselors, nurses and librarians. Parents, employees and even kids came out to protest the possible cuts.

“If it wasn’t for counselors I wouldn’t be here,” said Shelby Spillers, an 11-year-old student who said she had been badly bullied at her last school. “It’s like taking away a best friend.”

School board member John Lee Evans complained that it was absurd to be forced to hammer out budget cuts well before the state does. He cautioned parents and employees that it was “a preliminary step,” long before the final budget decisions the school board will have to make for the next school year.

“We need to continue lifting up every rock and looking under it,” Evans said.

The next major deadline that the school board faces is March 15, the date it must tell teachers and other educators if their jobs could be cut. Before then, San Diego Unified will ask principals to figure out how to cut $44.5 million from school sites; the central office is supposed to find $5.2 million.

The school board also voted to add a few more options to the list that were floated by school board member Shelia Jackson, including cutting the human resources and finance departments in half and consolidating them. The only board member to vote against the proposed cuts was John de Beck, who said the school board had squandered its chance to cut pay when it negotiated with unions last year.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org 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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