San Diego Unified has foregone layoffs, avoided furloughs, and even reversed some unpopular cuts such as making schools share principals or eliminating magnet busing. Now, as the July deadline looms for the budget to be completed, board members are turning to different, sometimes dramatic options in their quest to close the gap.
Trustees John de Beck and Katherine Nakamura believe one answer is to declare impasse with the teachers union. Richard Barrera thinks part of the solution is using up the $52 million of stimulus money, which is meant to cover two years, all at once. And board President Shelia Jackson is invoking one of the most sacred of sacred cows — the stream of buses that carry children northward from schools in the poorest, largely black and Latino areas of the school district — as a potential source of savings.
“It’s a nightmare,” Barrera said.
After the ballot measures meant to patch together the California budget went down in flames, San Diego Unified now faces a deficit that has skyrocketed from an early estimate of $63 million to a March estimate of $147 million to the figure of $180 million out of its $1.3 billion general fund.
Budget estimates provided by the school district show that even if the board opts to close schools, eliminates programs in Old Town and Balboa Park, cuts back on librarians and makes dozens of other loathed cuts, it will still face a deficit of at least $45 million that it must close through worker concessions — which depend on an agreement with the distrustful teachers union — or through a list of last-resort options. Those include eliminating arts programs, whittling down its emergency reserves or raiding all of the available stimulus money at once.
The lurching numbers are a reversal of the usual budget dance done by California schools, which routinely plan for the worst and then reverse cuts. That was what happened last year, when San Diego Unified warned nearly 1,000 teachers that they could be laid off and later rehired the workers it fired, a tumultuous saga that troubled schools, outraged the union and led to the ouster of one board member.