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School trustees set student achievement as top priority

The Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District on Tuesday night established six priorities around which to build a 2010-11 budget, and ordered staff to determine how much the package will cost.

The list was narrowed from 15 priorities proposed last week for divvying up the general fund of about $1 billion. The original group was 14, but staff split one into two separate items.

The top priorities range from the general, such as having a broad curriculum that includes activities outside the classroom, to the specific, like not increasing class sizes.

The others were raising the achievement levels of all students, the top vote-getter; allowing diversity, integration and choice; providing a safe and supportive environment, and creating a high-tech 21st Century learning environment.

Even the generic priorities included some specifics, including protecting programs for gifted students, music and art education, and continuing to employ vice principals, who had been on the budget chopping block.

While some priorities received more votes than others, they were adopted as a group on a 4-1 vote — with board member John De Beck dissenting.

“We’re saying we’re going to start with this — if we’ve got a little bit of money, this is what we’re going to do,” said board member John Lee Evans. “If we get some more money, we’ll do some more.”

Financial staff will have until a Feb. 2 meeting to determine how much it will cost to fund the priorities, and whether any money is left over.

They’re still working to figure out the impact of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2010-11 budget on the SDUSD, but the latest estimate is a funding shortfall of $93.9 million, according to William Kowba, the interim superintendent. He warned that estimate will change as time goes on.

An item that was interesting in that it did not make the priority list was to maintain the current 180-day school year.

Board members chose priorities by giving five votes to the most crucial item and one vote to their fifth-most important. With just one vote, the 180-day academic year was the fifth-highest priority of just one board member.

“I don’t think the (failed) items will save us $93 million,” De Beck said. “It’s a fantasy to say this will solve our budget problems.”