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San Diego Schools Face Future Shortfalls, Even With Improved Budget

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Aired 5/25/11

Even if K-12 education get a funding bump in California in the next budget year, San Diego Unified School District staff said it should go toward easing the crush of rising salaries and benefits costs.

— If the legislature accepts Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget proposal, it would mean about $32 million more for San Diego schools next year.

Teachers, students and parents lined up to tell school-board members at Tuesday night’s meeting why their schools and programs should be spared with the possible windfall from the revised budget.

But district Chief Financial Officer Ron Little cautioned against undoing any of the $115 million in cuts the district has already planned because it is uncertain the legislature will accept the governor’s proposal, which includes tax extensions.

“Hold the course," he said at Tuesday night's board meeting. "Seize this opportunity to shrink our deficits, our long-term structural deficits in the best case, and don’t restore anything at this point so that we maximize our fiscal flexibility for the worst case scenario.”

Even in the rosiest picture painted for board members on Tuesday night, the district is on track to burn through its reserves over the next three years and face a $121 million shortfall by 2013.

The mounting deficit can be blamed in part on issues unique to the district. Employees' scheduled salary increases - or step and column increases – come less frequently and so are larger than they are in most districts.

“All districts have ongoing step and column costs, of course," Little said. "Ours are, on average, higher and more expensive. We offer full health coverage for our employees and our families – unlike many districts that have hard caps.”

Some board members said they would want to use any additional money from the state for the coming year to rescind the more than 750 teacher lay-off notices they have issued. Little said they should bank the cash to ease future shortfalls.

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