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Bird Rock group celebrates reversal on shared principals

“Grateful” is the word used Wednesday morning by a group of Bird Rock Elementary School parents who had lobbied school Trustee John deBeck and Superintendent Terry Grier to eliminate a plan for 22 schools to share 11 prinicipals.

On Monday about 150 teachers and parents from Bird Rock and Pacific Beach Elementary, schools which would have split an administrator if the plan had been carried out, pleaded with the officials about proposed budget cuts.

Wednesday morning, just after the San Diego school trustees voted to eliminate that plan as well as to restore funding for buses for students who attend magnet schools, Save Our Prinicipals issued a statement that praised the board for “listening to our research on the risks and costs and having the courage to reverse their decision.”

Steven Gal, a parent and spokesman for the group, wrote in an e-mail: “We are more confident in our community schools’ ability to deal with all the challenges in today’s environment with a full-time principal leading the way.”

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While the unanimously passed measure mollified critics, it included a formula that will reduce spending for supplies and materials for magnet schools.

The district had hoped that cutting magnet school transportation entirely would save $4.3 million. It was part of a package designed to help close an estimated $146 million deficit projected for the next school year.

The board also voted to eliminate 20 mostly management positions as part of an overhaul of the district’s headquarters staff.

The cuts are “appropriate layoffs to make us more efficient,’' board member John De Beck said.

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On Monday, Dawna Deatrick, president of the Pacific Beach Parent-Teacher Organization, had called the shared principal plan “unacceptable and unnecessary.”

Peggy Ray, a Bird Rock first-grade teacher, had questioned the savings, pointing out that it would likely cost more in terms of administrative support, sick days, lawsuits and the impact on students.

The superintendent, who noted that he had worked in districts where principals were shared, said he “did not recommend shared principals, nor do I support it.”

Then he added: “I work for the board. Once they make their decision, it’s my job to make it work.”

He also said he did not support raising class sizes, but reminded the audience - many clad in bright yellow T-shirts reading “No 1/2 Principals” - that the district has no choice but to balance its budget.

If they don’t, he said, the district could be declared bankrupt and be taken over by a state appointee as was done in Compton and Oakland.

DeBeck, who earlier this year proposed furloughs be required of all teachers this year and next to save money, said he thinks the budget gap “will be closer to $200 million.”

While he said he voted for the current reductions “as a placeholder” until the district has hard numbers on its deficit after the state budget solidifies, he said he would not support shared principals. He also said class sizes won’t grow because there will be so many central office staff members who will have to move back to the classroom when their jobs are eliminated.

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Instead, he suggested a longer-term solution: form a new school district called the San Diego Coastal Unified School District. He said he plans to lead the charge and urged the audience to get behind his plan.

He said he wants those who live in the areas served by La Jolla, Mission Bay and Point Loma high schools and their feeder schools to support a petition campaign to form the new district. He also said it could be expanded to include as many as eight high school areas.

While the process is involved, it is permitted under state law and would require public hearings and a public vote as well as approval from the state.

DeBeck, who vociferously challenged the audience to pressure the school board majority about their concerns, asked audience members to contact him if they want to help.

City News Service contributed to this report.