By Terry Rodgers
Government spending for public education in La Jolla and the rest of San Diego can only go in one direction: down.
The only intrigue at this point is whether an upcoming series of school budget cuts will be merely significant or dramatically severe.
That was the message delivered by San Diego Unified School District officials to a group of about 50 parents and educators attending a budget briefing session Thursday evening at Muirlands Middle School.
Despite the grim budget forecast, parents said they were glad administrators were being frank and allowing them to see what types of budget cuts they are contemplating.
“The district has finally acknowledged the need for transparency, and the fact that school sites need to have flexibility to decide how to spend the money that is available,” said Sandy Erickson, president of the La Jolla High School Foundation.
The purpose of the briefing to parents and supporters of the La Jolla Schools Cluster Association was to show the public a preliminary list of what types of programs and personnel cuts administrators are currently considering.
“We have a long period ahead of us with a lot of tough decisions to make,” Area Superintendent Mike Price told the audience. “Realistically, it’s tearing us (administrators) all up inside.”
The first round of cuts will be presented to the school board in February, when the district intends to trim $121 million from its current budget.
Districtwide budget trims could include a 50 percent cut for school district police, and reduced spending for special education, professional development and program support from the central office.
Each school will receive a funding allocation based on their projected enrollment. Beyond that, the district’s strategy calls for giving local school principals and their advisory councils more autonomy and decision-making power over the spending of discretionary funds. Each school would decide based on local priorities which non-mandatory programs, such as music education, and which non-teaching support personnel, should be retained or trimmed.
“I support the fact that the district is giving the schools some say in how they spend those discretionary funds; previously it’s been a top-down process,” said Linda Dowley, chair of the La Jolla High School governance team.
Price said there currently are no plans to close any of the districts 185 schools, “but that may change as we go along.” Although the district has closed just one school in the past four years, campuses with small enrollments of 150 or less will be in jeopardy if the state further reduces its funding, he said.
Newly elected school board trustee Scott Barnett also addressed the audience, explaining that, if a proposed ballot measure by Gov. Jerry Brown to extend previous tax increases fails, local schools will face far more severe cuts.
But even before the fate of the proposed ballot measure is known, Barnett said he and fellow school trustee Kevin Beiser plan to form “tiger teams” made up of business leaders and parents to examine ways to eliminate wasteful spending and promote efficiency. He said anyone with an interest in helping schools can participate.
Barnett’s tiger team idea resonated with Lisa Bonebrake, president of the La Jolla Cluster Association.
“It’s time for the board to reach into the community and maximize the expertise that is available to them,” said said. “I think they need to realize we’re all in this together.”