School board signs off on budget after teachers protest

A three-year plan for balanced budgets was approved Tuesday by the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education but not before a protest by the teachers union aimed at Superintendent Terry Grier.

A pair of 3-2 votes finalized the budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year and presented a plan to balance the spending plans in the following two fiscal years. Trustees John De Beck and Katherine Nakamura cast the dissenting ballots each time.

The district will spend about $1.2 billion for the next fiscal year after making about $80 million in cuts.

“It will be worse next year” because of the state government’s inability to resolve its budgetary problems, Grier told board members.

James Masias, the district’s chief financial officer, said the latest projections showed a $64.7 million deficit for the 2010-11 academic year, and a $171.5 million shortfall for the following year, though that number is not nearly as bad as it looks.

The plan to close the future gaps includes, among other things, reverting back to traditional half-day kindergartens instead of full-day offerings, having a four-day furlough for all employees except bus drivers, and eliminating cultural education programs that barely survived the ax in recent budget deliberations.

However, those items are mainly being listed to satisfy an education code requirement to present balanced budget plans by June 30. Several board members said they hoped to find other ways to save money.

“The work in balancing our 2010-11 budget has to begin July 1, it has to begin right away,” board member Richard Barrera said.

Because budgeting involves certain multipliers of figures, if the board approves around $85 million in cuts for the 2010-11 fiscal year, that much larger deficit number for the 2011 12 fiscal year will be brought to almost zero, Masias said.

The meeting was highlighted by a presentation by the San Diego Education Association called by board President Shelia Jackson that was not on the night’s agenda.

Members of the teachers union, wearing red T-shirts bearing the motto: “Together we are stronger,” unfurled a massive roll of paper filled with thousands of signatures calling for the board to restore confidence in the administration of the district.

SDEA President Camille Zambro said the district was sliding back to “division and distrust’” since Grier replaced Carl Cohn as superintendent last year.

Zambro accused Grier of using “scare tactics” to divide the school community by presenting untrustworthy budget numbers during negotiations with school employee unions.

Nakamura objected to “sneaking” the demonstration onto the agenda in order to “humiliate the superintendent.”

No teachers are being laid off to balance the budgets.

“We’re not asking our labor unions to do anything -- nothing” to solve the budget problems, Nakamura said.

Jackson said it made no sense to issue layoff notices to teachers just to recall them in September when they were needed.