SDUSD trims deficit but will pay price later
by Adriane Tillman
Published - 07/03/09 - 02:19 AM | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Board of Education has finalized the 2009-’10 budget on paper that shows cuts the board could make to close the $63 million budget gap. However, its school-by-school impact is unclear and plenty could change as the school year unfolds.

On paper at least, the board identified 18 ways to close the deficit that include increasing the minimum number of bus riders from eight to 15 students to save $4.24 million; not reducing the K-2 class size to save $8.1 million in teachers; not purchasing textbooks next year to save $6.5 million; eliminating 30 vice-principals to save $3.36 million (the employees will not be fired but return to the classroom); and letting go of 53 special education staff to save $2.6 million. While the board decided not to fire any teachers, staff without teaching certificates can get a pink slip, according to Jack Brandais, SDUSD spokesman.

“The cuts are not binding,” said John de Beck, who represents the coastal schools on the board of education. “They are the board’s present view of what we have to do to balance the budget based on what we already know. It’s an expression of what we would do if we had to make that budget decision right now.”

De Beck added the impact of the budget cuts won’t be revealed until March 2010 when the board must dismiss personnel if it chooses to do so.

The County Board of Education will now review SDUSD’s $1.18 billion budget to ensure the cuts are realistic and represent a balanced budget. If the County Board finds the budget unrealistic and unbalanced, the board can appoint a monitor to make cuts to SDUSD’s budget, according to de Beck.

After outcries from parents, the board decided not to close small schools, including Crown Point Elementary in Pacific Beach and Barnard Elementary in Point Loma, or to share principals between small schools that would have forced one principal to manage both Bird Rock and Pacific Beach elementary schools.

But de Beck said those cuts will return to the table when the board discusses the 2011-’12 budget.

De Beck pointed to the board’s plans — and then reversal of those plans — to change bell times across the school district and share principals among small schools as examples of the board’s fickle nature.

“The odds are they will change their minds, because board members have already changed their mind on so many things,” de Beck said.

Mission Bay High Principal Cheryl Seelos doesn’t give much weight to the finalized budget, either.

“It will be hard to tell how it will affect anything [at Mission Bay High School]. We don’t know any more than we did before,” Seelos said.

The budget has created moving pieces and it’s not clear where they will land. For example, an increase in class sizes leaves 180 surplus teachers that the district will move around, according to Brandais. Part of the reason for those surplus teachers is that K-2 classes and ninth-grade classes will not be reduced to 15 students per teacher.  In this case, principals might choose to use discretionary money to keep class sizes small or the board might send a teacher to a school that is growing, Brandais explained. Teachers could become full-time substitute teachers or the district could send them back to school to earn a master’s degree if, say, an elementary school teacher is now required to teach middle school, Brandais said.

Lisa Bonebrake, a member of Bird Rock Elementary’s Parents’ Committee, thinks the final budget “has some concessions to parents and communities that may have been the loudest and the most organized, but I’m concerned for some of the communities and schools with lesser voices who most need the support.”

She also questioned the potential negative impact of some cuts.

“For example, I think that larger classroom sizes in K-4 is bad for all schools and students, but I believe it will have a much more negative impact for some schools than others,” she said via e-mail. “The cuts in special education will also be extremely negative for some schools.”

Patt Hom, president of Friends of Pacific Beach Secondary Schools (FOPBSS), said it’s difficult to comment on the budget until the state sends money to each school based on enrollment figures that won’t be finalized until early fall. However, she is worried about the weight that the teachers union holds over the district’s board of education. 

“I believe the real fight will come when the state finalizes its numbers and we have a better direction for where SDUSD stands,” Hom said. “I am very concerned about the control of the unions in all of this.”

Visit www.sandi.net/budget and click on Budget Update to read the budget in full.
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