Principals struggling with budget pinch

Staff and Wire Reports

La Jolla school officials are still playing a waiting game as they plan for Fall.

Even though the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education has approved a $1.057 billion budget that reflects $115.1 million in cuts, principals still don’t have details on how their schools will be affected.

Among the cuts are more than 1,400 positions — 800 of which are teachers, counselors, nurses and administrators.

The reduction of 1,288 positions means all grades will see class size increases except first, which will remain at 24 students per teacher. Third through sixth grades will see increases to 32 students per teacher, and kindergarten, second and third grades will increase to 29.5 students per class.

Late last week La Jolla High Principal Dana Shelburne expressed some dismay that district officials waited so long to react to the budget crisis.

“The fiscal crisis is not a surprise,” he said. “That train left the station five years ago, but our district didn’t make the tough decisions” about closing schools and laying people off.

Now they’re feeling the crunch and could face cutting another $90 million next year, leaving Shelburne with questions.

His revolve around music, English and math programs as well as school nurses, he said so he’s built a master schedule that still has holes as far as teachers’ names go.

With the layoffs, the process gets more complicated as teachers and administrators whose positions were eliminated “bump down,” taking positions of those with less seniority.

“I’ve told anyone who’s asked not to wait around,” he said. “If you have a job opportunity (elsewhere) take it.”

Also in limbo is school enrollment, which could well be affected by the decision to cut busing, Shelburne said, citing Mission Bay High School where students arrive on nearly 40 buses from around the district.

“If they don’t have buses they won’t go there and will go to their ‘home’ schools,” he noted. “Those schools — Lincoln, Morse and San Diego High — are already full, so then what?”

LJHS has six busloads of students coming to town — about 240 students. Without those students, the school will lose teachers and funding, posing another set of adjustments that can’t be made until school starts.

Torrey Pines Elementary Principal Jim Solo acknowledged the predicament school trustees faced, but still holds out hope that the teachers who have received pink slips will be back in the fall.

“The district had to make difficult decisions based on the information they knew from the state,” he wrote in an e-mail last week. “Having to present a budget to the county by the end of June without a signed budget from the governor makes it difficult. I am hopeful that the budget the state legislature has recently approved will provide additional funding to the district and the SDUSD board can rescind pink slips before school begins.”

At last week’s budget meeting board Vice President John Lee Evans said, "This board is very, very aware that passing this budget is going to cause great damage to our schools in San Diego. We're not magicians. We can't pull the money out of a bag.''

Board member Kevin Beiser casting the sole opposing vote in the 4-1 vote, stating that raising class sizes in the coming years will be detrimental to students.

"We have to approach this budget process completely different in the future,'' Beiser said. "We need to start with K-3 class sizes at 20-1, then we have to build.''

If the district receives additional funds, restoring smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade is the top priority.

District staff agreed to forgo raises for the coming year unless the district receives additional revenue and to continue a five-day furlough with corresponding salary reductions. Employees whose positions are not reinstated will retain their health care coverage until Sept. 30.

The district also plans to sell property including a portion of the Hoover High School site and property in Scripps Ranch and will negotiate a deal with the Little Italy Association for joint use of land adjacent to Washington Elementary School, to be used as a dog park. The sale of district property will generate a one-time revenue of $22 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Sara Sapeda of City News Service contributed to this story.



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