La Jolla Cluster Association wants community educated on budget crisis

By Dave Schwab

Drastic budget cuts will be required if the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is to stave off financial collapse.

That was the sobering message delivered by SDUSD trustee Scott Barnett and Phil Stover, deputy superintendent of business, to the La Jolla Cluster Association (LJCA) serving La Jolla’s five public schools — La Jolla High, Muirlands Middle and Birdrock, La Jolla and Torrey Pines elementary schools — at an Oct. 19 meeting.

“My No. 1 job right now is to save San Diego Unified School District as we know it, to prevent it from going into financial failure,” said Barnett, who represents Sub-District C’s coastal schools. “All school sites — every classroom — across the district will be impacted in some form or another.”

To argue his case, Barnett brought along a handout titled “The Sobering Realities of Continuing Deficits.”

Budgetary challenges detailed:

• A best-case $60 million to worst-case $115 million budgetary shortfall for fiscal year 2012-13.

• The threat of $30 million in mid-year cuts.

• A tight timeline for making budget decisions: January for mid-year cuts; March 15 for certified staff.

“This is truly an asteroid heading toward our school district that can no longer be ignored,” Barnett said reacting to statistics showing district budget cuts paralleling state budget cuts for education that have slashed SDUSD’s general fund by $450 million and reduced staff 15 percent since 2008.

Stover echoed Barnett’s comments saying 14 school campuses districtwide will be closed — though none in Sub-District C which includes the La Jolla Cluster — and services and programs for other schools will be combined or reapportioned.

After the meeting, members of the Cluster’s executive board — 10 parents (2 from each school), 10 teachers (2 from each school) and five principals — who were present spoke out about the crisis.

Frustrated reaction

La Jolla Elementary Principal Donna Tripi said she felt “overwhelmed” by the district’s presentation. “I just wish that the state of California would find other ways to fund education other than relying on tax bases and economic factors,” she said. “We need to find a stable way to support education so our young people have a future.”

Tripi added her budget planning method during these recessionary times has been to try to keep cuts as far away from kids as possible. “You just brace yourselves for what the next thing is, and work together to plan for it,” she said.

Muirlands parent Natascha Vossen said she was “confused” about the state’s policy of deferring mandated payments to schools.

La Jolla Elementary parent Fran Shimp described the possibility of the district becoming insolvent and the state taking over as “good for no one,” adding the answer may lie in financial reform, “but any financial reform has to come with accountability reform,” she said.

Bird Rock Elementary parent Lisa Bonebrake said a larger communitywide meeting is needed to allow Barnett and other SDUSD members to make their case for the necessity of drastic, across-the-board district budget cuts.

“They need to let people know more, deeper cuts are coming down next year,” she said. “People need to stay up-to-date on what the picture is.”

To this end, Cluster members are planning a communitywide meeting at La Jolla High School at a date yet-to-be-determined.