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San Diego Unified leaders came out swinging today against claims by the teachers union that the school district was sitting on $66 million that could be used immediately to cancel planned layoffs.

The teachers union based its claim on two lines in a school district budget summary: one that lists $57 million in “unextended balances/set aside” and another $9 million in surplus money for this year. That money is on top of the rainy day funds that San Diego Unified must set aside for emergencies.

Superintendent Bill Kowba called a press conference Friday at Chesterton Elementary in Linda Vista to counter the union claims, saying they were misleading. “There is no unused money that is suddenly there to deal with any of the deep cuts right now,” he said. “The record needs to be set straight.”

Kowba and Chief Financial Officer Ron Little said the money, while labeled under the heading of “reserves” in their budget summary, is already being used to offset the deficit and couldn’t be used again to cancel layoffs.

The $57 million in “unextended balances” includes a onetime funding bump of $30 million that San Diego Unified will not get until July, roughly $20 million in federal jobs money and $6 million in money for students with disabilities. Kowba said the $57 million had already helped lessen the needed cuts, offsetting an initial $163 million deficit. Here’s the chart that he and Little displayed:

Click to enlarge.

The school district made $115 million in cuts and had $9 million left in surplus, Kowba explained. That money needs to offset other unpredicted threats to the budget, Kowba said, such as increased fuel costs. Using any of the $57 million would only force them to find more cuts elsewhere, he said.

School board member Scott Barnett said he was disappointed that the teachers union would give false hope to teachers whose jobs are at stake, calling it a red herring and “a cruel, sad distraction” from the budget crisis. He warned that San Diego Unified might face cuts much deeper than it’s planning for.

Asked about the numbers shown by San Diego Unified, the teachers union insisted that using the money would not deepen the deficit, pointing back to the report that labeled it as “reserves.”

“This is budgetary tap dancing by Ron Little and nothing else,” union President Bill Freeman wrote in an email.

I’m still hoping to get an outside expert to take a look at the financial statements and weigh in. Check back for updates as I keep sorting through the $66 million question.

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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