School trustees start cutting, but look to personnel discussions for more reductions

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday night approved approximately $63 million in cuts from the budget for the 2010-11 academic year but will require employee union approval for 30 percent of the reductions.

The board made a lengthy series of votes to reduce or eliminate programs, with the certain cuts reducing the budget gap for the next school year to about $35 million.

Board members committed to seek an additional $19 million in reductions to personnel costs that will need to be negotiated with union officials. Board President Richard Barrera said during the meeting that he thinks the unions are prepared to accept the concessions.

Trustee John Lee Evans said there would have to be “shared sacrifice” among teachers, parents and students to balance the budget.

“We have to have staff contributing just like everyone else is contributing,” Evans said.

In preparing the budget for the current fiscal year, Barrera, Evans and Shelia Jackson opposed staff and salary reductions for teachers.

This year, with the budget picture even worse, the remaining deficit could be closed with teacher layoffs.

District financial staff told the board that the leftover $16.3 million was roughly equivalent to the salary and benefits of 232 probationary teachers.

The board did not take action on that information but Jackson was the only member to vocally oppose layoffs on Tuesday.

The future contains a pair of variables that will affect whether layoffs become necessary and, if so, how many would be needed.

One is the level of state funding for the district, which could change depending on actions taken over the next several months by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.

The other is the board’s support of a possible 6 percent salary rollback for employees that was not included in Tuesday’s budget figures. It would also require negotiations with unions, and Barrera conceded that getting approval of such a large amount was unlikely. However, if it happened, that would save the district an additional $38 million.

A popular item that escaped elimination was the cultural program known as OCILE, in which students visit Old Town, Balboa Park and Camp Palomar for cultural and racial education. Staff had proposed suspending OCILE for three years, but it will instead only suffer some funding reductions.