A ticking time bomb lurks in the San Diego school district’s three-year labor deal, and right now it looks less and less likely that officials will be able to defuse it.

Essentially, the deal was based on a bet. We’re now understanding how much of a gamble it was. “While the state’s problems continue to burden districts across California, San Diego Unified has potentially exacerbated their effect with a series of decisions that threaten to further erode class sizes, beloved programs and its overall financial footing,” write Andrew Donohue and Will Carless.

If things don’t go as planned, the district could end up with a projected deficit of $87 million. The district now spends more than 90 percent of its discretionary budget on salaries and benefits, meaning that it may have little choice but to issue a flurry of pink slips.

“I’m just sitting back and scratching my head thinking, ‘Where’s the money going to come from?’” a former chief financial officer with the district said. “The only thing they can do is cannibalize themselves.”

The district’s teachers union isn’t impressed by claims of financial problems and it has refused to renegotiate the labor deal. On the other side, “the district’s line is simple: No new bargaining means they will have to lay off hundreds more people.”

‘The Bernie Madoff of Campaign Finance Treasurers’

Rep. Susan Davis put it in simple terms: “We have been robbed!!” In a letter to supporters, the Democrat who represents parts of central San Diego said her campaign funds are missing “upwards of $250,000,” the Union-Tribune reports.

Davis blames embattled treasurer Kinde Durkee, who’s facing federal fraud charges. “As this scandal emerges, she may well become known as the Bernie Madoff of campaign finance treasurers,” Davis writes.

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The Los Angeles Times reports that well-known Democrats hired Durkee “even though she had a history of fines and investigation into how she used the funds of elected officials.” Elsewhere, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County said they have lost almost their entire campaign funds, and the L.A. County Democratic Party says it’s missing more than $200,000.

State Senator Christine Kehoe, who represents parts of San Diego, fired Durkee in 2009.

No ‘Mistakes Were Made’ Yet, but It’s Early

I’m patrolling coverage of the blackout in search of Big Excuses for Big Problems. Here’s one about why the sole generator failed at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, knocking off power to the hospital and requiring a small evacuation of patients, courtesy of its vice president: “It’s just like any other mechanical device. Something is not gonna work all of the time. So it’s no different from that.” (KPBS)

And there was this about San Diego’s water problems during the blackout, courtesy of a city spokesman: “It’s just not cost-effective to have backup generators for all 49 pump stations to prepare for a once-in-a-generation situation.” (U-T)

If you see any more blackout-related excuses, drop me a line.

More Blackout News

• Time magazine has a handy primer on how to buy a generator to keep your food, and maybe you, cool during a blackout. Generators can also keep the lights, computer and TV on, not to mention any life-saving medical equipment.

It sounds like a generator strong enough to power a mid-sized home can cost about $800, plus $500 more if you want to hook it up to your breaker box. Stationary generators, which run on propane or natural gas, cost from $1,500 to more than $10,000, plus installation.

• Food stamp recipients have the option of getting spoiled food replaced.

Fact-Checking a Stadium Subsidy Claim

“The average subsidy in the NFL is about 65 percent of the costs of a stadium is paid for by the public,” Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani said last month. San Diego Fact Check finds that his claim is true.

The County Retiree’s $240K a Year Pension

The chief executive officer of the San Diego Superior Court retired back in 2002 with a salary of $179,000 a year. Now he made $240,000 last year in pension proceedings, the most of any former county employee, the U-T reports, and he isn’t apologizing.

Stephen Thunberg said he did a good job. “I made the best of it in doing the public’s work efficiently and economically,” he said.

Thunberg told the paper that some other pensioners worry about their safety because their names have been released. But he seems sanguine about it. “We’ll go on with our lives and make the best of it. The court has decided. It has been released. We just hope that people don’t overreact to it.”

Kibbles and Tidbits

• Now that’s being cautious: This summer, an Escondido “terrorism liaison” got worried when a guy showed up at City Hall and asked nosy questions about the city’s water system, the LAT reports. “He turned out to be an enthusiastic water-system parts salesman, not a terrorist.”

• Former San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn is one of only 17 professional baseball players to ever spend 20 or more years with a single team. He’s on the list with big names like Stan Musial, George Brett and Carl Yastrzemski.

• Maybe we’ll have handy glow-in-the-dark cats by the time of the next massive blackout. They’re being developed.

U-T Commenters Now Wear Name Tags

At last! The U-T yesterday finally began requiring online commenters to identify themselves. Users now can only comment through their Facebook pages.

The U-T has some wow-worthy stats: it says 122,000 people have commented on its site, and the busiest single commenter has posted a whopping 20,000 comments. And here I thought I didn’t have much of a life.

“A few posters were not above leaving snarky comments below obituaries, smearing the departed’s memory and taunting the survivors,” the U-T says. “Some readily admit they don’t bother reading the articles they’re ‘commenting’ on, so eager are they to enter the fray.”

People are commenting about stuff they know absolutely nothing about? I’ve never heard of such a thing! Meanwhile, would you like to hear my thoughts about the Middle East situation? Hello?

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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