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There were only two items on tonight’s San Diego Unified School Board meeting agenda, but one of them was a biggie.

The board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve sending final layoff notices to 1,534 employees, bringing those layoffs a big step closer to reality. Board Vice President Scott Barnett cast the dissenting vote, urging his colleagues to instead rescind the layoffs and send the district into insolvency and state takeover.

The vote, the latest move in a long process that began in March, showed the board isn’t backing down on its plan to start the next school year with more than 1,500 fewer teachers, counselors and nurses in city schools. The district says the layoffs are required to close a budget deficit of between $80 million and $122 million next year.

All but about 100 of the laid off workers are teachers. That means about 1,400 of the district’s 7,000 teachers — or one of five — are slated to be let go.

A large demonstration from teachers and parents, and more than an hour of passionate public testimony didn’t sway the board from a decision most of the trustees and Superintendent Bill Kowba said was both necessary and regrettable.

“We’ve reached a point where there is a new normal,” Kowba said. “This new normal has placed us in a situation where we now talk about staffing reductions in the hundreds.”

Chief Human Resources Officer Lamont Jackson told the crowd that “a few hundred” of the layoff notices will eventually be rescinded in coming months, as the district learns that teachers are retiring or taking leaves of absence. But he said the district hasn’t issued a single notice that isn’t absolutely necessary.

“When 90 percent of your budget is salary and benefits and you need to cut millions of dollars, you have to cut, simple,” Jackson said.

It’s the second straight year in which the district has had to issue large-scale layoffs.

On the evening’s second item, the board voted 4-1 to pass a resolution stating essentially that the board isn’t about to go insolvent and that the board will do everything it can to balance the district’s budget. This is the resolution School Board President John Lee Evans said last week that he would ask the board to vote in an effort to assuage Wall Street that the district has its finances in order.

Barnett, who was the lone vote against that resolution too, said the school board’s statements on the document were inaccurate, since they didn’t describe the district’s full fiscal woes.

“I think this an important cautionary tale to our employees. This is not a resolution about the Boy Scouts,” Barnett said. “You are stating to the bond markets who we are going to borrow money from, that this is an accurate assessment of our finances and I believe that’s not true.”

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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