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San Diego Unified Trustees Take School Closures Off The Table

Aired 11/2/11 on KPBS News.

San Diego Unified trustees voted unanimously to end consideration of closing 10 schools next fall.

Under a plan approved unanimously by board of education members Tuesday night, San Diego Unified will still consider closing the Barnard elementary campus and moving its magnet program; consolidating the high schools on the Crawford campus; consolidating two schools at the San Diego High campus; changing the enrollment boundaries for elementary schools that feed Lincoln High School and consolidating Pacific Beach Middle and Mission Bay High School.

The considerations are a significant curtailing of a process that could have closed or consolidated more than a dozen schools across the district next fall.

After the board vote, there are no schools being considered for outright closure. Their decision comes one week after hundreds of parents, teachers, students and staff from schools facing closure spent over an hour telling board members why their schools should be spared.

Board president Richard Barrera proposed redirecting the closure process. He said he directed staff "to look at schools where through closure or realignment we would actually improve the opportunities for students, because they’d be going to a school with more programs and more offerings.”

A staff committee developed the original closure and consolidation recommendations over 10 months. Those closures were estimated to have the potential of saving the district between $4 million and $6 million a year, according to Phil Stover, the district's deputy superintendent for business, who heads that committee.

He said the board's action guts those potential savings.

The trustees will meet to discuss criteria for any future schools closures. Board vice president John Lee Evans and Barrera agreed that school realignments were not off the table for making the district more efficient in the long run.

San Diego Unified faces a budget shortfall for next year of at least $60 million. Evans said trustees did not want to close schools in a panicked response to the district's budget crisis.

The district's financial outlook lead Moody's to downgrade its rating for long-term debt late last week. Standard and Poor's followed suit Monday. The district's Chief Financial Officer Ron Little told board members that Moody's has also labelled the district's ongoing financial projection as negative, meaning they expect things could get worse. Little said the downgrades increase the interest rates on any long-term loans — which are used to fund construction and maintenance projects -- the district takes. He said the downgrades could also shake investor confidence in the district's ability to repay short-term loans.

The report from Standard and Poor's cited large salary increases scheduled to go into effect next fall under current employee contracts, a large number of ongoing construction projects and the district's declining enrollment.

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