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S.D. School Board to Begin Making Budget Decisions

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Above: KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis speaks with San Diego Week host Gloria Penner about San Diego Unified School District's budget cuts.

— The San Diego Unified school board will begin to decide on millions of dollars worth of cuts at its Tuesday meeting. Trustees have until the end of this month to balance the district's budget. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis has this preview.

Shutting small schools. Cutting arts and athletics. Eliminating the Old Town educational program.

These cuts make-up the litany of strategies that could help San Diego Unified shore-up its $180 million budget deficit. But even if all the cuts are approved, the district is still short $45 million.

District officials say the $45 million could come in the form of cuts to teacher pay and benefits. However those options have to be negotiated with the teachers union. So far there has been little traction. Three of the five school trustees -- Richard Barrera, Sheila Jackson and John Evans -- believe there are still cuts to be made outside of the classroom.

Evans says central office jobs and school busing could take a hit.

“We are being told this is all that can be done. I am not accepting that,” Evans said. “My idea is to continue to use the scalpel around the classroom and school site. But really the machete has to be at the district administrative level.”

But district officials say they've already made drastic cuts to the central office. Even so, Evans says he’ll continue to push. He says if district officials refuse to close the gap in other ways, he would support a board proposal to impose individual budgets for each district department.

“It's not just a matter of us asking them, "Please do this." We'll say, "This is how much you need to cut. And if you can't find it then we will go in, and we will, for each department, give a limited budget.” Then (district officials) are going to have to figure out how to operate under that limited budget.”

Some critics call that approach micromanaging. They say the board should have voted for work furloughs and cuts to magnet school transportation to help shore-up the gap.

Meanwhile, trustee Richard Barrera is defending the board’s decision earlier this year not to issue layoff notices to teachers. He says the district’s early retirement deal offered to veteran teachers, also referred to as the Golden Handshake, garnered savings that trumped the need for layoffs. More than 600 teachers have taken the deal, allowing them to retire early in exchange for a financial buyout plan.

Barrera says the board is waiting on district officials to synthesize the spending plans of each school in the district. He says that information might help to inform the board’s options as well.

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