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Barnett Calls For End To San Diego School Closures

— San

Aired 10/27/11 on KPBS News.

Board of Education Trustee Scott Barnett accused his colleagues of refusing to address the school district's budget crisis on the same day Moody's downgrades San Diego Unified's bond rating.

Diego Unified School District’s bond rating is being downgraded by Moody’s, one of the major ratings agencies. The downgrade comes on the same day Board of Education Trustee Scott Barnett accused fellow board members of refusing to make tough choices to solve the district’s financial crisis.

Heather Harris, whose children attend Point Loma's Silver Gate Elementary, came out to hear Barnett talk about school realignments she said would affect all Point Loma students at Dana Middle School, Oct. 27, 2011.
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Above: Heather Harris, whose children attend Point Loma's Silver Gate Elementary, came out to hear Barnett talk about school realignments she said would affect all Point Loma students at Dana Middle School, Oct. 27, 2011.

Standing at a podium in the auditorium of Dana Middle School, Barnett called for an end to the school realignment process that could result in schools at 13 campuses being closed or consolidated. Dana is one of the schools that would be affected by the realignment plan, which district staff have been developing since January and began rolling out at community meetings over the last month.

His decision comes after the board voted 3 to 2 on Tuesday to reject cuts to student transportation. Barnett says the closures would disproportionately affect the area he represents - Point Loma - and his colleagues are not willing to make the cuts required to close a looming shortfall that could reach $118 million next year.

“It needs to be a shared burden across the district," he said. "And I need to know that my colleagues are willing to make tough decisions. And, once again, I will not sacrifice a half dozen schools in my coastal area when my colleagues will clearly not make the tough decisions in the rest of the district." Barnett will present his own plan on Monday to balance the district’s budget shortfall.

“We have to make tough decisions and they’re not being made at the federal level, they’re not being made at the state level, they’re not being made at the county level, they’re not being made at the city level and they’re not being made at the school level," said Barnett. "We are heading down.”

He says the transport cuts could save the district $9 million a year, but staff estimate the largest potential savings at about $3 million.

Board President Richard Barrera says that’s not worth damaging the district’s magnet programs and transport for students whose neighborhood schools perform poorly.

“This specific circumstance, frankly, was not a tough choice because it was a choice between making cuts that would have hurt kids that would have in fact saved next to no money for the district," said Barrera.

School officials agree Thursday’s downgrade of the district’s credit rating is a sign dramatic measures must be taken to improve its direfinancial situation.

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