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SD Unified School District to Cut Tens of Millions More from Budget

Backpacks hang outside of a San Diego classroom.
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Above: Backpacks hang outside of a San Diego classroom.

— Despite millions of dollars in cuts already planned for next year's budget, the San Diego Unified School District will have to slice tens of millions more, district officials said today.

"There is no anesthesia for this surgery," said Phil Stover, a financial consultant for the school district.

The district had planned to close a $100 million budget gap, but last week Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger advised local governments to prepare to receive even less income from the state than originally forecast.

In response, district financial officials projected an additional loss of $91 million. Combined with some savings they've already achieved, the deficit for the 2009-10 budget year is now projected to be around $180 million.

"There's still a lot to learn about what the state is going to do," said school board member John Lee Evans. "The difference could be $10 million less (of a deficit)."

The board next week will consider plans to bring the deficit down to about $45 million by, among other things, increasing class sizes, eliminating 151 librarians and reducing the number of school nurses and health technicians.

A couple of the items -- reducing the number of special education employees and closing seven small elementary schools -- did not appear to pass muster with the board during a budget discussion, though no official votes were taken on those options.

That still leaves a large deficit for the district, which is required to present a balanced budget to the County Office of Education by July 1.

There are several big-ticket items being negotiated with employee unions, including salary rollbacks that could amount to 3 percent to save $25.4 million; freezing scheduled pay increases to save $19 million; and eliminating preparation time for elementary school teachers to save $13.1 million.

While no one mentioned how the negotiations were progressing, board members John De Beck and Katherine Nakamura said the district might have to declare an impasse with the unions and impose those solutions. However, they represent a voting minority among the trustees.

If the cuts involving union negotiations do not go through, then the board will have to turn to options directly impacting students, including eliminating magnet programs, music education and athletics.

"Every cut on this page has a consequence," Superintendent Terry Grier said.

The board tonight will consider a "Project Labor Agreement," which wouldl regulate how the district offers contracts to firms that bid for work on Proposition S, the voter-approved $2.1 billion bond measure to improve campus facilities.

Critics contend the district allowed unions to develop the terms in a way that will cut non-union shops out of the process.

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