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School district considers salary cuts, school closures and special ed cuts

By JAMES R. RIFFEL

City News Service

The San Diego Unified School District board Tuesday weighed graduated salary cuts, small school closures and lowered general fund contributions to special education as ways to close a budget gap for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Interim Superintendent William Kowba said board members won’t be able to solve the budget crisis by making small program cuts.

“We’re not going to be to solve the $87 million problem with ‘onesies’ and ‘twosies,’” Kowba said.

Trustee John De Beck appeared to agree.

“The only solution is a general salary decrease,” De Beck said at a budget workshop. If more money comes in than expected, the pay can be restored, he said.

Board member Katherine Nakamura and board President Richard Barrera both appeared to support salary reductions, though Barrera said he wants workers at the lower end of the pay scale to be protected from painful cuts, and higher-wage employees to take the brunt of the hit.

No specific numbers were mentioned, and no votes were taken since the discussion did not take place at a regular meeting. Salary cuts for most employees would have to be negotiated with unions.

Teacher’s union President Camille Zombro told the board last week that teachers were willing to accept unpaid furlough days in exchange for keeping cuts out of the classroom.

Regarding closures of campuses with fewer students, Nakamura pointed out that one elementary campus has just 139 students. A private school would have trouble making a go with such a small enrollment, she said.

The district has 11 schools with less than 250 students, according to Nakamura.

“I’m willing to look at that,” she said.

The board will also consider consolidating the campuses of Crawford, Kearny and San Diego high schools, which for several years now have been split into smaller schools focusing on construction, nursing and other specialized programs.

Much of the spending on special education comes from restricted state and federal funding, but the district annually spends tens of millions of dollars on such programs from its general fund.

The proposed general education contribution from the general fund for next year is $115 million. According to Barrera, the district contribution has not been above $100 million before.

“That seems like a big leap of about $15 million or so from the general fund to special education at a time when we’re trying to reduce spending,” Barrera said.

The board president also said staff should study the level of central office support that is provided to individual campuses, since charter schools within the district survive with minimal district backing.

One thing which will apparently survive a proposed change is the GATE program for gifted students.

District officials had proposed cutting one GATE resource teacher and folding the program into special education to save $396,000.

About 80,000 SDUSD students take part in GATE.

The board will return in one week to vote on cuts.

Other things that might be eliminated or reduced include travel, public information and communications, association memberships and professional development. The board also might consider charging for bus transportation for some students.