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One of the five San Diego school board members proposed yesterday that the district pull out of its alleged death march toward insolvency by slashing salaries and putting a tax increase before voters next year.

The proposal by trustee Scott Barnett is the first detailed plan to arise since district leaders began warning of insolvency last month, and he’s the first to propose homegrown solutions rather than looking to Sacramento to help.

It will be a tough sell. The teachers union responded that all the doomsday talk is “in no way a foregone conclusion” while another board member says pay cuts for “underpaid” staff members would be unfair.

Barnett’s plan would essentially undo the three-year contract struck in 2010 that shortened the school year by five days, lowering teacher pay, in the first two years in exchange for a series of three raises in the upcoming year.

He hopes voters will backfill a further 10 percent reduction in pay by approving a parcel tax next November. Barnett warned that if these drastic cuts aren’t made, even more pain awaits if the district goes broke. (Watch our video explainer for a quick rundown of what happens if the district goes insolvent.)

Barnett originally planned to put his proposal before the school board today. But late last night, he sent out an email saying he’ll postpone it in order to continue studying the numbers.

Thank You!

A giant thank you goes out to everyone who participated in our Fall Member Campaign that wrapped up yesterday.  

We exceeded our goals with 142 new members and 327 individual donations totaling nearly $30,000. As a nonprofit news organization, this total is significant in a number of ways. Our ultimate goal is to achieve longterm sustainability and that is only possible with a diverse stream of revenue. That means we need a strong base of individual donors to balance out the funding we receive from foundations, community partners and other sources. This campaign was a big step in the right direction, but we still have a long road ahead of us. 

If you haven’t become a member, please do. If you know someone who could benefit from reading our work, please forward the Morning Report to them. It’s a long road, but we’re gaining momentum and we want you onboard!

Kindergarten Cap

We’re continuing to answer questions from readers about the school district’s financial crisis. The latest query: How big could kindergarten classes get in the next school year?

Currently, most kindergarten classes in the district have 22-24 kids per teacher, but the limit under contract is 29.5 students. How the district chooses to deal with its financial mess over the next year will impact that.

Big Haul for Petition Drive

Realtors, business boosters, hotel owners and a councilman all helped raise more than $1.1 million to spend on their campaign to push a petition reform initiative onto next year’s ballot, the Union-Tribune reports.

That reaches the estimate campaign leader Carl DeMaio gave us last month when we broke down the important numbers in the petition drive.

Two Murder Cases that Went Stone Cold

• In 1995, a 21-year-old woman disappeared. She was discovered dead in Pine Valley, far from the Mission Valley apartment she shared with her husband. It took five years for detectives to interview her father, and the investigation was flawed in other ways, said a Superior Court judge who dismissed the case early this year. The move came after a jury couldn’t decide whether to convict her husband of murder.

The U-T explores the botched murder case that seems to have gone down the drain due to mishandling by sheriff’s detectives. “Obviously, there were mistakes made,” a homicide lieutenant tells the paper.

• On an August day in 1978, a couple of Long Beach teenagers named Jim and Barbara drove down to Torrey Pines State Beach and slept on the sand in their sleeping bags.

“A fit of shivering jolted Jim awake,” the North County Times reports. “He tried to stand, but a wave of dizziness bowled him over. He groped for his sleeping bag or the warmth of Barbara’s body, but found only sand.”

She was dead at 15, murdered by a still-unknown assailant. He’d had his head bashed by a rock and charred logs.

The NCT finds Jim, who’s now 51 and severely torn by emotional scars. He called his violent thoughts and anxieties the “dark-and-twisties.” Nowadays we know them as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The case, which San Diego cops describe as one of their most frustrating, remains cold. Six years later, another girl died at the beach in a similar way.

Death — and a Century-Plus Afterlife — at the Hotel Del

Halloween is a busy time at the Hotel del Coronado, and not just because it celebrates the holiday. Ghost hunters often visit in search of a ghost of a “Beautiful Stranger” who checked in but never checked out.

In a history flashback, I look into the story of young Kate Morgan — aka Lottie A. Bernard — who registered at the regal resort on Thanksgiving Day 1892. A few days later, she was found at the bottom of beachside steps with a gunshot wound in her head and a revolver next to her rain-soaked body.

Did she kill herself after giving herself an abortion? That story seems the most likely, but recent generations of crime buffs — including one who became positively obsessed with her — have come up with theories of murder, mistaken identity and conspiracy.

Whatever happened, her body never left San Diego, and some hotel visitors say her spirit remains in the Crown City.

More Investors Disclosed in Otay’s Water Deal

We’re now getting more insight into the identities of investors who are working with the Otay Water District, which has been mighty close-mouthed about its deal to turn seawater from the ocean off Mexico into drinking water for its South Bay customers.

Congressman and Councilman Miss the Mark

San Diego Fact Check TV chronicles redevelopment claims by Rep. Bob Filner and Councilman Todd Gloria. The former insinuates he authored the Gaslamps’ revival; we give him a Misleading. The latter says the city is suing the state to reclaim redevelopment. We give him a False.

Clash City at Occupy San Diego

This weekend the relative peace between police and Occupy San Diego protesters was tested, and our photographer Sam Hodgson returned with a photo essay of the stand off.

The photos show how the cops got physical with protesters, using their hands and batons to push them where the police wanted them to go.

Over in the “not helping” department, one angry-eyed protester wore a pig nose and a mock “SD Police” badge. “While many demonstrators advocated for a peaceful protest, others taunted the police and said openly that they hoped to be arrested,” Hodgson reported.

A couple photos feature those sinister masks of Guy Fawkes that have become an icon of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Who was this guy and what do the masks mean?

The New York Times says Fawkes “was an Englishman who tried to blow up the House of Parliament in the early 17th century as part of a plot to give Catholics more power amid a Protestant monarchy.”

Fawkes became a folk hero who’s still celebrated in the UK. The comic book “V for Vendetta” popularized him even more, turning his face into a symbol of fighting the establishment.

Germs Get in Line

Researchers led by a UCSD physicist report that they’ve been able to manipulate the patterns that bacteria form by tinkering with genes. A single genetic change adjusted the number of concentric rings — stripes — that the germs created.

In the big picture, the research could help provide greater insight into how nature creates patterns. 

Sounds pretty neat, but the scientists need to make sure the stripes go the right way. If the bacteria feel fat, horizontal stripes won’t help matters at all. Trust me on this.

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

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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