It’s likely to be another late night at the San Diego Unified school board meeting.
I heard this morning that schools trustee Scott Barnett has removed his controversial plan to stave off insolvency from tonight’s agenda. Barnett, who announced the plan at a press conference yesterday, says he needs a couple more weeks to consider the latest data from the district before asking his colleagues to discuss it.
The plan, which calls for salary cuts for teachers and a parcel tax, is likely to be hotly contested by the teacher’s union when the board eventually hears it. The removal of the item should reduce the number of public speakers at tonight’s meeting somewhat, but there’s still likely to be plenty of them.
Last week, hundreds of protestors showed up to picket the board on school closures. So many people were at the meeting that dozens of people had to sit outside and watch the proceedings on TV.
Last week, the board wasn’t even taking a vote on whether or not to close schools. This week, it is.
But the plans this time focus on greatly curtailing the closures. Probably the most interesting item remaining on tonight’s agenda is a presentation by board President Richard Barrera, who plans to ask staff to “refocus the schools realignment/closure committee.”
That committee, which I wrote about last week, has been tasked with providing the board with a list of schools that could be closed to save around $5 million towards next year’s deficit of at least $60 million. Barrera said he wants to limit the committee’s focus to closing only schools that provide a poor service for students. He only wants to consider closing schools if doing so would mean students would transfer to other sites where they would get a better education.
Practically, that means reducing the number of schools that would be considered for closure from 14 to about two or three, Barrera told me.
Barnett has already said he’s had enough of the school closures plan. But he has also said that he would still support closing a couple of sites that are in disrepair, which means he may support Barrera’s motion.
The other board members are more difficult to gauge. They’ve come under fire from Barnett this week for, he says, failing to make hard decisions. Despite shrinking enrollment, the district has steered away from closing schools in the past under political pressure. We’ll see if the board keeps this hard, controversial decision on the table for the future.
Trustee John Lee Evans, who yesterday shot down Barnett’s anti-solvency plan, has his own item on tonight’s agenda calling for a board workshop to discuss school closures “in a larger context,” before coming to any decisions.
That may indicate that Evans is unwilling to give up on the closures process just yet, despite the waning support for it among his colleagues.
Lastly, there’s likely to be some discussion tonight of what to do with the district’s real estate assets.
The board has proposed selling off some district-owned land as a one-time fix to fill some of next year’s budget hole. Tonight, they’ll be discussing one such land sale and will hear a report from staff on other possible saleable assets at the district’s disposal.
I’ll be live-tweeting the meeting from @SDlivetweet. Follow me there for updates throughout the evening. I’ll also post a story once the meeting’s finished.
Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can reach him at email@example.com or 619.550.5670.