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Schools budget balanced -- for now

The San Diego Unified School District will have a balanced budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year but significant reductions in the number of employees might be necessary in the following years, the district’s

chief financial officer said Tuesday night.

“San Diego Unified is at the precipice of three more years of fiscal

deficits,’ Chief Financial Officer Phil Stover told trustees at a Board of Education meeting.

While the budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year is balanced thanks to

numerous spending cuts approved by the board, the projected shortfall for the 2011-12 fiscal year is $127 million and that number could grow to $221 million by the 2012-13 fiscal year, depending on choices made by the school board, Stover said.

Stover presented board members with a list of possible cuts to balance

the 2011-12 budget, and if all are adopted, a 10 percent reduction in district personnel would result, totaling about 1,400 positions.

“We’ve been scrambling and scrambling the past couple of years just to

keep afloat -- with a lot of ingenuity we’ve been able to do that,” board member John Lee Evans said. Now they’re going to have to throw people overboard, he said.

Board member John De Beck said the list of potential cuts depends too

much on dropping programs instead of simply lowering salaries.

About 92 percent of the district’s budget is tied up in personnel costs, and Stover said it is becoming harder and harder to reduce expenses without touching people.

If the board makes cuts in on-going expenses, instead of in one-time

costs, then that 2012-13 projected shortfall would be more like $79 million, according to Stover.

The projections will change over time, for better or worse, depending on spending decisions made by the Legislature.

School officials point out that the deficit projections for future

fiscal years are on top of what has already been cut.

The district suffers from a combination of lower state funding -- which includes deferrals of payments owed to the SDUSD -- and higher expenses. Stover said next year’s spending on employee health benefits will jump 9.7 percent and utility costs are expected to climb 8 percent, despite efforts to “dampen” both.

Bill Kowba, announced earlier in the day as the final selection of board members to be superintendent, said, “We can’t keep pace with some of these expenditures going up.”

Kowba is currently the interim superintendent.

Total spending for the current fiscal year is about $2 billion, and will be reduced to $1.9 billion for next year, he said.

School districts are required to have balanced budgets and to make plans for the following two fiscal years.