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Determination: Barely True
Analysis: With the state poised to cut millions of dollars in education funding this year, school districts across California are bracing for another cash crunch. San Diego Unified has warned of possible insolvency and a state takeover.
The situation has focused more local attention on Randy Ward, who’s in a distinct position to discuss school finance. Ward was previously appointed by the state to manage two insolvent school districts and now leads the office that oversees school district budgets in San Diego County.
During a KPBS interview last week, Ward explained what happens to insolvent school districts and boasted about the financial health of San Diego County’s schools.
“We would know when they’re going in that direction,” Ward said. “All of our districts have made the appropriate reductions in their budgets, which is why San Diego County is probably one of the only counties that has very few, very few qualified districts.”
“Qualified” is edu-jargon for a school district nearing insolvency. State education officials assign the rating to districts that might be unable to pay their bills in the next three years.
The rating is one step above the state’s worst category, “negative,” which is assigned to districts that will become insolvent in the same three-year period if nothing changes.
Four San Diego County school districts are currently rated qualified: Borrego Springs Unified, La Mesa-Spring Valley, Ramona City Unified and San Marcos Unified. None are rated negative.
Though Ward fairly described the number of qualified districts — four is arguably “a few” of the county’s 42 school districts — his statewide comparison doesn’t hold up. He claimed that San Diego County is among a select group with a small number of qualified districts, which it isn’t.
Roughly half of the state’s 58 counties don’t have any qualified school districts. San Diego ranks near the top just by having four.
We also compared what percent of school districts are qualified. About 10 percent are qualified in San Diego, which is higher than 33 other counties.
In an interview Tuesday, Jim Esterbrooks, a spokesman for the County Office of Education, clarified Ward’s comparison on KPBS. The superintendent was only referring to the state’s most populous counties, he said.
In that case, Ward’s comparison would be true. San Diego County has fewer qualified districts than most other populous counties, including Orange, Santa Clara and Los Angeles.
But that isn’t what he said on the radio. Our definition for Barely True says a statement contains an element of truth but critical context is absent that may significantly alter the impression it leaves. It fits Ward’s statement.
Ward fairly described the number of qualified districts in San Diego County but his statement exaggerated how that number compares across the state. He portrayed San Diego County schools as being in better financial shape than most of the state but the numbers he cited don’t support that conclusion.
San Diego is actually among a select group of counties with a few or more qualified districts. The majority of counties in the state have fewer qualified districts than San Diego.
Only when Esterbrooks clarified Ward’s intent did the comparison hold up.
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