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San Diego Unified's Looming Budget Cuts Now Top $124 Million

Despite warnings from San Diego Unified’s new CFO Patricia Koch last month, some board members held out hope a growing economy would send more money their way. That didn’t happen, and now at least $124.4 million must be cut from the district’s budget.

Cutting San Diego public school spending by $116.6 million next year will not be enough.

At least $124.4 million must now be cut from San Diego Unified’s budget, according to revised staff figures presented to the school board Tuesday that factor in the governor’s more restrained state budget.

Despite warnings from the district’s new CFO Patricia Koch last month that the district was on “thin ice” and could not “expect to see the large infusions of funds” from the state, some board members held out hope a growing economy would send more money their way.

That didn’t happen, and planned revenue increases from the state’s Local Control Funding Formula were scaled back.

“The deficit is somewhat worse than we had hoped it would be,” Koch said Tuesday. “Certainly, we were hoping for good news in the governor’s budget, but that didn’t occur.”

The updated numbers included some maneuvering by staff to soften the blow of what could have been a deficit increase of as much as $17.7 million. To offset the hit, staff decreased health and welfare costs and increased local and federal revenue. Costs budgeted for special education also went up.

How trustees and staff will choose to fill the $124.4 million shortfall that remains is still unknown.

With a reserve fund now near minimum levels required by the state and no significant increases from Sacramento, cuts to the $1.3 billion budget must be made. In addition to finding $124.4 million in ongoing cuts for next year, staff estimates they’ll need to slash another $52.5 million from the 2018-19 budget.

Specific budget reductions will be brought to the board in February. “Strategic layoffs” of teaching and non-teaching staff “as needed” remain scheduled for March.

That prospect concerns teacher’s union president Lindsay Burningham, who urged district officials to “not make decisions over educator staffing levels in a rash manner.”

After Superintendent Cindy Marten rattled off a list of 16 priorities she’s committed to funding – like restorative justice, early learning and dual-language programs – Burningham said, “I’m glad hearing that the district has a lot of noble priorities, but you need to remember that you must have our SDEA members in order to do that work.”

Under pressure from San Diego County Office of Education officials concerned about the district’s solvency, the school board greenlit broad budget cuts last month totaling $44 million at the central office, $52 million from school sites and $21 million from centralized support services, which includes supports dispatched to school sites like IT and transportation. District officials still can’t say how much those three broad budget areas currently cost the district. Thus, it is unclear how much of those budgets those cuts represent.

Also unknown and not yet factored into the budget: higher pension costs for non-teaching employees after the California Public Employees’ Retirement System board lowered expected investment returns last month. The move could cost the district millions in the coming years.

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