Here’s one thing you’ll never hear a government official say: “We’re making cuts, but they’re not painful or cut-to-the-bone or anything like that. Don’t worry about us, carry on!” No, hits to the budget are always deep and awful. But now, as the San Diego school district ponders possible insolvency, there’s a new message about big cuts: they may be impossible.

And the maze of rules making that the case may also make insolvency more likely.

To survive and not be taken over by the state, the district needs to figure out its finances within the next few weeks and avoid running out of money. But state laws and labor contracts tie its hands on where it can cut. As our Emily Alpert explains, certain expenses can’t be cut, and certain money must be spent in specific ways.

Why not lay off teachers and principals? The law won’t allow them to be sacked without months of notice.

Follow the maze here.

Watch and Be Heard: Two things you can do as schools near the brink. Next week, in collaboration with NBC San Diego, we’ll be running a special weeklong series of San Diego Explained breaking down exactly what’s happening to the district. The segments will run Dec. 5-9 during the 6 p.m. newscast.

We’ll also post the videos on our site, after their broadcasts, and we’d like you to send us your thoughts to run with them. If the state put you in charge of city schools, what would you do? Put your thoughts on this form.

Then, Thursday Dec. 8, at 7 p.m., we’re hosting a special panel in conjunction with the San Diego Foundation and United Parents for Education. The panel will include:

  • Richard Barrera, San Diego Unified school board president
  • Scott Barnett, school board member
  • Jim Groth, California Teachers Association
  • Teresa Drew, San Diego United Parents for Education
  • Paul Bowers, parent.

The event will be at the McMillin Events Center in Liberty Station. Please check out our special section on the topic.

• “San Diego County is probably one of the only counties that has very few, very few qualified districts,” said the superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education earlier this month. Using education jargon, he’s talking about the number of districts that are considered to be near insolvency but haven’t yet reached the state’s lower-most category for financially struggling districts.

Four districts in the county (but not San Diego’s) are in the “qualified” category. So is the county schools boss right? Not entirely. San Diego Fact Check gives his claim a “barely true” verdict.

• Last week, a letter from a teacher who felt “disrespected” provoked quite a response. We’ve now posted a response from entrepreneur Michael Robertson, who says as a taxpayer he feels disrespected. How do you feel these days?

County Supervisor Smacks ‘Wings’ Sculptures

County Supervisor Ron Roberts didn’t wax quite as colorful as other critics of the widely maligned dual-sculpture proposal for the waterfront, but he’s definitely not a fan. “There’s no redeeming value,” the former architect told us at a public meeting about the revamp of the Navy Pier. The sails/wings, he said, have “no relationship to the fabric of downtown… The height and the location are just extraordinarily wrong.”

Most of those who spoke about the sculptures were with Roberts.

Councilman’s Behind the Eight Ball

A San Diego restaurant can’t add a pool table “without going through some additional regulations because that pool table was deemed a negative element in the 1950s or ’60s,” City Council President Tony Young told the Union-Tribune this week. Is he right?

San Diego Fact Check chalked its pool stick and discovered that he’s not. Even so, city officials have a history of keeping an eye on pool halls.  

Giving Their Two Cents

We’ve posted a new opinion piece as part of our partnership with the Henrietta Lacks Project, a months-long series of events examining research ethics and diversity issues through Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Alka Malhotra, a genetic epidemiologist, and Georgia Robins Sadler, associate director for Community Outreach at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, write about the power and challenges of clinical trials in medicine.    

Strictly Quickly

• Rep. Duncan D. Hunter was one of only 15 members of the House to vote against a bipartisan bill to make it easier for legal immigrants to work in the U.S. by lifting strict country-by-country restrictions. “His position is border security first. Once we secure the border — this is one issue among others to consider,” a Hunter spokesman told CityBeat.  

• CityBeat checks in on two local races. One is about the 79th state Assembly seat, where a candidate is “questioning the leadership qualities” of a rival. The other examines the newly formed 52nd congressional district. In a Q&A, the paper checks in with former Councilman Scott Peters, a Democrat who wants to knock Rep. Brian Bilbray, a Republican, out of office. But he may need to get past former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña first.  

• Quiz time! San Diego kept the interests of its gay community in mind when it redrew the boundaries of its City Council districts. (We explained the history of gay politics in town in a story earlier this year). What’s the only other city in the state that officially says its gay community must be considered during the redistricting process?

Surprise! It’s Sacramento.

• News stories about tunnels under the border seem about as common as night-and-morning-low-clouds forecasts. But this one is different: a tunnel’s discovery in Otay Mesa — it was “equipped with a hydraulic lift, electric rail carts and a wooden staircase” — led to the impounding of 32 tons of marijuana, the AP reports. Rarely have authorities found that much pot anywhere in the U.S. outside of Jeff Spicoli’s house.

The tunnels tend to be discovered at this time of year. “It’s unclear whether cartels are building the tunnels in time for the winter holidays or if that’s when authorities just happen to find them,” the AP says.

The story says drug smugglers like to dig in California because of our clay-like soil. Huh. I always had a hard time with it back in first grade when I tried to dig to China through the backyard sandbox. Maybe a shovel instead of my fingers would have helped.  

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Randy Dotinga

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

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