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School board looks at proposed cuts; more still needed to close gap

The San Diego Unified School District still faces a serious deficit for the 2010-11 school year despite switching to a new budgeting system, the Board of Education was told Tuesday night.

The new priority-based budgeting system, as presented by the staff, found savings of only $7 million from the $707.8 million the district was projected to spend under the previous system.

Staff is currently projecting a $70 million shortfall, but the numbers change frequently because of decisions made at the state level, and as more is learned about the impact of the district’s hiring and spending freeze.

“The obvious conclusion is we’re unable to fund our priorities,” board President Richard Barrera said.

Budget proposals presented to the board will need to be vetted by the public, and staff will have to come back with “radical” changes, he said.

“The reality is we’re going to have to cut much more,” Barrera said.

The presentation was only for information, so the board did not take any action. The board scheduled a budget workshop for Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Eugene Brucker Education Center, 4100 Normal Ave.

The recommendations made Tuesday maintain athletics and nursing, but makes cuts in arts and music, and reorganizes a program for gifted students.

It also puts on hiatus for several years the OCILE cultural and racial relations program, which includes a camp for sixth graders. Keeping OCILE was a major priority for some civil rights activists and certain board members during last year’s budget deliberations.

Among the priorities adopted by the school board last month were to minimally fund essential and mandated operations, maintain class sizes, continue a broad-based curriculum, build a high-tech learning environment and keep schools safe, supportive and diverse.

Despite the last priority, staff recommended cutting five police community service officers.

Board member John De Beck said teams of staff members made decisions on potential cuts that affected their own jobs or programs.

“There’s some evidence self-serving decisions were brought forward,” De Beck said. “I don’t think we’re any closer to solving this budget problem than before we started this (budgeting) idea.’'

Board member Katherine Nakamura said, “We’re in a remarkably similar place.”

Phil Stover, who is leading the priority-based budgeting effort for the district, told board members the recommendations include eliminating 15 of the 124 central office departments, reducing the budget for 30 and consolidating 28.

Before the meeting, the San Diego Education Association — which represents the district’s teachers — held a rally that union President Camille Zombro said attracted 1,000 members.

Zombro said her union has offered to accept unpaid furlough days in exchange for keeping budget cuts out of the classroom.