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San Diego Unified Calls For Parent Input As It Kicks Off Budget Season

Educators hold signs that read

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Educators hold signs that read "Protect San Diego Students" and "What's the Plan?" at the San Diego Unified Board of Education meeting, April 25, 2017.

San Diego Unified is getting this year’s budget season off to a different start, after a rocky budget process last year. The district is circulating a simple online survey asking parents what they can go without and what has to stay in the budget.

“We promised folks that we would give them more opportunity to participate and this is our way of trying to do that,” said Board Vice President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne.

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The district could have to cut close to $54 million. That comes on the heels of $124 million in budget cuts this year, drawing criticism from parents who felt the board wasn’t transparent enough in the process.

During a meeting aimed at improving district communications with the media Wednesday, Whitehurst-Payne said the school budget process engenders confusion. The state’s Education Code requires the district to identify cuts and send out pink slips by March, when the state budget is still in flux. She added last year the district estimated cuts to certified staff would settle at about 350 positions — down from more than 1,000 during early budget talks — and that’s exactly where it landed.

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But Whitehurst-Payne acknowledged that even with new efforts aimed at transparency this year, the budget process won’t be easy. More than 90 percent of the budget covers personnel, meaning some will lose their jobs.

“You’re not talking about cutting back on the number of tables you make, or the number of chairs or beds or whatever,” she said. “You’re actually talking about human beings.”

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The district could end up having to cut much less, depending on the state budget. The school board will hear an updated number Tuesday, when it gets a briefing on Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal. The governor's plan set aside $1.8 billion in one-time discretionary spending for schools and projected $4.6 billion more in Proposition 98 funding, the state’s main driver of education funding.

The district could have to cut close to $54 million. That comes on the heels of $124 million in budget cuts this year.

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