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Board of Education calls on state to solve its budget woes

By JAMES R. RIFFEL

City News Service

The San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education Tuesday night unanimously passed a resolution calling for the state government to solve its budget woes without placing further financial burdens on education.

The resolution, sponsored by board member Richard Barrera, calls for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature to take “a balanced approach” to solving fiscal problems “that includes both new revenues and budget cuts to reduce the negative impacts of excessive cuts to education.”

The resolution promises the district will advocate “progressive tax policies,” and for simple majorities for the Legislature to raise taxes and pass an annual budget. The Assembly and Senate require two-thirds majorities to do both.

With the state looking at another year of deficits, the San Diego district could face a funding reduction of nearly $200 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year, Barrera said.

That would require the trustees to ax popular athletic and music programs, return to half-day kindergarten, end busing to magnet schools and force them to negotiate with employee unions for “across the board serious pay cuts for every employee, across the board serious benefit cuts for every employee,” Barrera said.

Even those reductions wouldn’t reach $200 million, he said.

Barrera said proposals for furlough days would have a negligible impact, for to save anywhere close to $200 million, the district would have to reduce the school year by three months.

“What we’re saying to the state is, we’re calling your bluff,” Barrera

said. “If you’re going to fund us for six months of a school year, don’t expect us to have nine months.”

Board President Shelia Jackson went further by suggesting the district not open campuses in September if it hasn’t received adequate funding.

“I think the state keeps asking us to do more with less, and we do it,” Jackson said. “I think we have to stop doing so well with so little and show the state and the nation we’re not going to keep doing it on a pittance of funding.”

The board was advised last month by its representative in Sacramento that the poor economy will again leave the state government with a shortfall of billions of dollars.

The $200 million impact on the district was viewed at the time as a worst-case scenario, but officials are now worried that the worst might also be the most likely case.

Education from kindergarten through 12th grade represents about 40 percent of state spending, with about 10 percent more going to higher education. Much of the rest goes to health programs and prisons.

The Sacramento representative told the board that the priorities of Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders lean more toward preserving prison and health funding instead of education.

The school board Tuesday night also approved a merger of the grades six through eight Gompers Charter Middle School and grades nine through 12 Gompers Preparatory Academy, both of which have shown marked improvement in student achievement in recent years.

Jackson said after the meeting there has been no direct movement to hiring a new superintendent. The board first wanted to establish goals and a vision for the district, a process now completed, she said.

The district wants to test its plans before the community before seeking a new superintendent. William Kowba, a former admiral and a veteran district executive, holds the job on an interim basis in place of Terry Grier, who took a similar job in Houston.