Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009 | It was a stunning change of fortune. Months ago, as San Diego Unified struggled to cope with massive budget cuts, it suddenly discovered that the problem wasn’t as bad as it thought.
Budget staffers found that their expected shortfall had suddenly dropped from $180 million to $106 million — a 40 percent change — after they added up new numbers for state funding and the actual savings from freezing spending.
It was good news — but it made skeptical observers even more skeptical of the numbers. And as San Diego Unified heads into another year of budget cuts, analysts say its budgets remain unreliable.
Outside experts hired by the district to pore over the budget found that the system is still riddled with problems, according to a draft report obtained by voiceofsandiego.org. Employees frequently have to enter and sort budget data by hand, increasing the chance of errors. Millions of dollars have been put in the wrong place as a result. And the school district has trouble tracking the costs of individual employees. That makes it harder for schools to know where the fat is — and cut it so the things that students and parents plead for can be spared.
Such concerns are nothing new. In fact, the same analysts brought up the same problems a year ago. Top San Diego Unified employees say those problems will soon be fixed. New data systems will be unrolled, ending the need for employees to painstakingly work with numbers by hand and reducing the chance of mistakes.
But another issue could prove troublesome. The outside analysts questioned whether the school district charged the wrong fund for routine upkeep of schools and violated state rules about how the money can be used. If California regulators agree that the school district erred, San Diego Unified could be forced to find and transfer an estimated $15 million in its budget, controller Ken Leighton said.