In the latest edition of San Diego Explained, we take a look at the ticking time bomb in San Diego schools finances.

The video segment with NBC 7 San Diego examines the gamble that San Diego Unified School District made in its 2010 labor contract, and how it’s looking more and more like that gamble won’t pay off. It builds off of the story my colleague Andrew Donohue and I wrote last month.

View more videos at:

You may want to think about those deficits in the light of San Diego Unified’s push towards full inclusion of children with disabilities.

I’m spending the coming days investigating and blogging about that move, and trying to come to some conclusions about how the district managed its paradigm shift and the effect it has had on students.

An important element of that equation, as always, is money.

San Diego Unified chose to implement its new approach at a very challenging time. As we wrote in our ticking time bomb story, California school finances took a big hit in January 2008 when the state stopped handing down its regular cost-of-living increase to schools. That year, the state also cut spending on schools by 15 percent, and schools have continued to receive 10 percent less funding than they once did.

I’m waiting to establish the exact school board votes that sparked the paradigm shift and led to the phasing out of all-day separate special education classes, but I know that the changes started happening shortly after the release of this 2007 report on special education in the district. So, the changes started at the exact same time San Diego’s funding was being cut.

The sources I have spoken to about San Diego Unified’s push told me that to do inclusion right takes money. That’s because of a number of factors: General education teachers need proper training to make sure they’re ready to accept kids with special needs into their classes. Those teachers may also need extra support in terms of para-educators or teachers’ aides. All that costs money.

Last week, I spoke with the author of the 2007 report, Harvard professor Thomas Hehir. I asked him whether California’s financial crunch has made it harder for San Diego to implement its special education changes.

“It’s clearly more difficult in this environment that it would be otherwise,” Hehir said.

However, Hehir also pointed out that schools have been able to call on stimulus money over the last couple of years. That money’s been available to do staff development, one of the lynchpins of making this transition effectively, he said.

Thanks to your help, I have a list of special education and general education teachers who I’m going to start calling now. I plan to ask them whether they’ve been limited by tightening budgets.

But let me also pose this specific question to readers: How have you seen the district’s budget reductions impact the special education paradigm shift? Parents, teachers, administrators, in your experience, has San Diego Unified had adequate resources and funding to make these changes?

I would love to hear your stories. Remember, you can leave a comment on this blog, call me at 619.550.5670, email me or send me messages on Twitter or Facebook.

Get in touch.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at You can reach him at or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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