After months of agonizing over budget cuts, San Diego Unified quickly passed a budget Tuesday night that will lead to ballooned class sizes in kindergarten, second and third grade; suspended beloved programs that take students to places like Balboa Park; thinned bus routes and a slew of other cuts.

More than 1,400 positions were cut from the payroll, including more than 800 teachers, counselors, nurses and other educators. That accounts for more than one in 10 educators in the school district. All in all, the school district budget shrunk from $1.22 billion this year to $1.057 billion.

“Make no doubt about it, this board is very, very aware that passing this budget is going to cause grave damage to our schools in San Diego,” school board member John Lee Evans said.

This is technically the final budget for San Diego Unified next school year. But it could still be rewritten, depending on how the state budget shakes out for San Diego Unified. State lawmakers could vote on a budget deal as soon as tonight, one that relies on higher projections for revenue.

The school board has pledged that if it gets another $36 million in state revenue from the final state budget, it will spare more teachers and other employees. It already scrounged around to find savings from solar power and fewer area superintendents to spare arts and music teachers.


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But the state budget deal could also mean bad news for San Diego Unified. It hinges on more projected revenue — and if that revenue doesn’t come it could mean more cuts in the middle of the school year. Legislators have warned that schools could be forced to slash another week from their calendars if that happens, shortening an already shortened school year. It is unclear how San Diego Unified will weigh that uncertainty against its promise to spare jobs.

Other cuts included:

• Fewer area superintendents to oversee principals.

• Ending a pilot program that had tested out tiny classes in some of its neediest schools.

• Reducing oversight for its gifted and talented programs.

And the school board will have to come back and make more budget cuts next year. The school district faces an estimated $91 million shortfall, one that rivals the $114 million in cuts it made this year.

Its tentative plans to close that gap include shuttering nearly a dozen schools, selling off property, squeezing more savings from its central offices, and swaying its labor unions to make more concessions — something that is far from guaranteed. San Diego Unified had to include those plans in its budget, even though those decisions are still a year away and could change dramatically before then.

The only board member to vote against the budget was Kevin Beiser, who objected to some of the proposed cuts that San Diego Unified said it might make for the year after next, such as hiking first grade class sizes back up again.

Beiser said it would make more sense to increase middle and high school class sizes even more instead. He also objected to vague “central office cuts” that he feared would mean cutting police and arts teachers, who are centrally funded.

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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