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San Diego Unified is looking at how to squeeze budgets at its small high schools to save money. But one of its high schools is feeling more squeezed than others. That’s led one of its fans to call foul.

Here is how it happened: As schools plan their budgets for next year, they have also been told how many principals and teachers they’ll get. This is a pretty simple calculation at most schools. Got one school? You get one principal.

Not so for the small high schools, schools-within-a-school that were created by carving up big schools six and a half years ago. Cutting back on administration at the small high schools has long been discussed as a way to save money, especially since the academic gains at small high schools have been mixed.

So under the current plan, each of the small schools at Kearny High will only get half a principal next year. So will the small schools on the San Diego High campus. That will likely force small schools to share administrators next year, even if they decide to keep separate schools with separate themes intact.

But the drop is even more dramatic for El Cerrito’s Crawford High, where the four small schools would share one principal.

Becky Breedlove, a Crawford High community volunteer who often shows up at the school board meetings with her knitting in hand, emailed the school board with a simple question: Why should some small high schools get fewer principals than others? She dubbed it unfair:

I clearly have heard and can produce video that explains the district philosophy that in the “bare bones” budget ALL schools would get ONE PRINCIPAL each … At the risk of being considered another “crackpot” or a person “who should get a life” you will continue to see me regularly at board meetings and I will continue to be diligent when it comes to questioning practices that seem discriminatory and that are imposed on those least likely or able to advocate for themselves.

So why did Crawford get fewer principals? I rang up Deputy Superintendent Nellie Meyer, who said that Crawford was slated to get fewer principals than the Kearny or San Diego High schools because its overall enrollment is lower. The predicted enrollment for all the Crawford schools next year averages about 321 students per school, compared to 458 and 472 students at the others.

Meyer said the other issue is that Crawford has not had the same academic success with small schools as Kearny or San Diego High, which is why more consolidation might make more sense.

Breedlove said it still doesn’t make sense. Small elementary schools with fewer students than each of the Crawford small high schools are getting their own principals, she pointed out. And Breedlove isn’t convinced that the school district has really analyzed whether Crawford is doing better as small schools.

Meyer said the decision was made by school district staff and has not been approved or rejected by the school board, so the small high schools could still end up getting more or fewer principals. That is why Breedlove and other small school backers are now turning to the school board to argue their case.

This whole dispute reveals something really interesting about this budget mess. While each school is trying to patch together its own budget, some parts of those spending plans, like the number of principals at small high schools, are based on changes that San Diego Unified staff have planned without a green light from the board. Though schools scramble to plan for those cuts, they aren’t soup yet.

That could mean that the school board disagrees when the plans are presented to the board — and that in turn could mean that schools have to adjust their plans. After all, if San Diego Unified does decide that Crawford should get more principals, what else will it cut to pay for it?

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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