We’re digging deeper into explanations for the financial crisis facing San Diego schools. District leaders have blamed the crisis on a drop in funding from the state, but we’ve shown that they’re only getting a bit less than they did a decade ago. What gives?

We’ve got four revealing graphics that put us on the road towards solving the mystery we’ve been pursuing for months.

Health care costs are up. That’s not exactly surprising, but it has contributed signficantly to the district’s bind even after rounds of layoffs.

So what is surprising? The spending for special education. The district’s spending more on special education even though it serves nearly 10 percent fewer children with special needs than it did four years ago.

“So, the problem isn’t that the district has so much less money than it used to, but that the money it gets simply doesn’t go as far …,” our Will Carless writes. “That’s a big distinction, however, and it should focus attention on the district’s spending, rather than the amount of money it brings in in funding.”

Stay tuned as we try to better understand the trends in both health-care costs and special-ed spending in the New Year. In the meantime, catch up with our special series Schools on the Brink for the back story on San Diego Unified’s financial woes.

City Attorney, Mayor Not Impressed By Bankruptcy News

You can sum up the reaction of the city attorney and mayor’s office to news about municipal bankruptcy in a couple words: ho and hum. (Well, at least one of the words is Christmas-y!)

We asked them what they thought about news out of Rhode Island, where a small bankrupt city appears to have convinced its retired cops and firefighters to accept less pension money.

That’s important because both leaders had argued bankruptcy was inappropriate for San Diego’s financial trouble because pensions were untouchable.

The news from the smallest state in the union would contradict that. A mayoral spokeswoman called a comparison to Rhode Island “utterly ridiculous,” while City Attorney Jan Goldsmith wasn’t impressed either.

Goldsmith said has more to say in a letter to the editor. He writes that the “city is not close to being insolvent or qualified to file.”

So why do people talk about it? “Lawyers drool over the idea of bankruptcy because of the fees that so many would share in. Reporters also drool over it because of the steady stream of easy stories.”

Au contraire! Journalists don’t drool. We simply salivate inappropriately. Sounds classier that way, doesn’t it?

Prosecutors Target South Bay School Board Members

“Months of investigation into potential corruption at Sweetwater schools and Southwestern College prompted the District Attorney’s Office to execute search warrants Tuesday at the homes of six sitting and past officials,” the Union-Tribune reports. Investigators also searched the home of a construction contractor who’d done work for both districts.

“Those targeted for raids share a web of connections, tied to construction bond measures approved by voters within the two districts,” the U-T said.

Fearful of the Sway of ‘Influential Elites’

Lucas O’Connor, a blogger at the liberal twocathedrals.com, zaps the city’s support of the plan to remodel Balboa Park.

The situation “is reflective once again of San Diego’s general deference to its rich, private benefactors and commitment to finding not the best plan under the law or for the city overall, but the plan that is preferred by the narrow group of influential elites who hold sway over City Hall,” O’Connor writes.

Is “influential elites” redundant? Doesn’t being one mean you’re also the other? Being neither, I do wonder these things. 

On our site, we’ve got opinions too. In a Fix Schools entry, a former teacher says students need to be thought of as the clients of the education system not the products.

More Match, More Problems

The San Diego Foundation last week led a matching donation program for local nonprofits called giveBIG. And boy did San Diego give big.

So big in fact that it surpassed expectations, leaving local nonprofits and the foundation in a bit of a bind.

The foundation thought the groups would raise up to $1 million and it would contribute $150,000 for matching. But the solicitations brought in more than $2.1 million. That meant that most of the match simply went to processing fees on the total donations.

The foundation announced Tuesday that it was adding $125,000 to its original match.

It acknowledged that there had been a few concerns about the program, saying “giveBIG was so successful that we far surpassed our initial expectations for this first-year event.”

More than 300 nonprofits solicited donations during the 36-hour period (Here is the leaderboard. We received 107 donations through the push).

News at the Speed of Brief

• The Arts Report — Morning Report’s pesky younger sister, the one with those ever-pull-able pigtails — is out with its weekly look at all things artsy but not you-know-what-sy. There’s a bunch of stories about painting over art and one about a leadership change at th Old Globe.

• “Everybody got caught up in the moment,” an Encinitas artist tells the NC Times. “Boy, were we wrong.” 

Wrong about what, pray tell? About memorializing a controversial councilwoman on the backs of banners touting a city arts festival. The councilwoman died earlier this year, and artists thought they’d remember her by decorating the backs of the banners with her image.

Not so fast. The mayor — a political enemy —  and others made a stink about the banners and their connection to the city. Now, it sounds like the artists will have to cover up the images before the banners can be displayed. 

• A travel blog called Wanderlust has named San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs as one of “Top 5 Amazing Places that Are Disappearing:” “The sandstone bluffs, which feature arches and sea caves, are slowly being eaten away by runoff from developments and irrigation.”

• A half-dozen California companies are talking to South Dakota officials about relocating there after the state’s governor made a business-poaching visit to the San Diego area, a Sioux Falls TV station reports.

• UCSD scientists have figured out how to coax bacteria into lighting up — it’s called fluorescing — on command. A press release says the process “involved attaching a fluorescent protein to the biological clocks of the bacteria, synchronizing the clocks of the thousands of bacteria within a colony, then synchronizing thousands of the blinking bacterial colonies to glow on and off in unison.”

I’m definitely calling these scientists the next time my parents need someone to program their VCR.

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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