The school board got a glimpse tonight of just how bad things could get for San Diego Unified schools: More than 700 positions would be eliminated. Class sizes would increase in many disadvantaged schools. Schools would be cleaned less often and have fewer counselors and nurses.

California is slated to cut school budgets in the middle of the year if state revenues continued as projected.

San Diego Unified and other school districts have to start crafting their budgets before they get final word. So they are planning for the worst. If California makes midyear cuts, San Diego Unified would likely have to cut between $26 million and $30 million. Its 2012 budget, already facing major deficits, would look even worse.

The immediate remedies to the midyear cuts could include:

• Laying off more than 40 employees who do not teach, including custodians and case workers who work with pregnant and parenting teens. Classrooms are now cleaned once every three days; union officials warned they would be cleaned less frequently.

• Using $22 million in funding that is already budgeted to be spent next year, further worsening next year’s bleak outlook.

• Selling off $4.5 million in extra property.

• Freezing hiring for vacant jobs that aren’t critical to running the school district.

• Suspending overtime.

It would also have to make another round of cuts next school year. Those cuts could reach $97 million from a $1.1 billion. So far San Diego Unified has come up with nearly $93 million in possible cuts. The cuts would eliminate the equivalent of 700 of the district’s about 13,000 full-time positions.

The remedies could include:

• Increasing class sizes in all schools. For instance, kindergarten classes would have 30 students per teacher. A pilot program that gives disadvantaged schools smaller classes for their youngest students would disappear.

• Cutting back on nurses and counselors who are shared among schools.

• Reducing school police force by 15 percent.

• Reducing staff for visual and performing arts by half.

• Selling off another $20 million in school district property.

The school district could also bargain with its labor unions to try to delay or undo raises that kick in this summer, which will cost $21 million next year, or to extend furloughs.

But San Diego Unified isn’t including that in its budget plan because it can’t make those cuts unless unions agree to them. School board member Kevin Beiser said the board needed to work with labor unions to come to an agreement that could save employees and spare programs like music.

School board President Richard Barrera said he and his colleagues also needed to put pressure on state lawmakers to seek out new revenues and avoid cutting schools. He said no matter what, he would not let the school district go insolvent, something school officials have warned could happen if cuts are as severe as feared. Doing so would only leave someone else to make these ugly choices, he said.

“We are not going to turn this district over to the state,” Barrera said.

The school board did not vote on the plan on Tuesday night. It will decide on a budget plan next week. But that plan may be obsolete just a few days after it is approved: School districts must send a draft budget to the County Office of Education by next Thursday, the very same day that the Department of Finance is slated to say whether midyear cuts will be needed. The final budget isn’t due until July.

Emily Alpert is the education reporter for What should she write about next? Please contact her directly at

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Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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