Schools chief warns of dire budget situation in 2011-12

By Jessica Plautz and James R. Riffel

City News Service

The superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District said Tuesday the budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year will be the worst in its history.

At a news conference on the day the Board of Education will take up next year’s spending plan for the first time, district officials projected the shortfall at $141.6 million, depending on certain actions taken by the state Legislature.

“Next year’s budget is the worst that the San Diego Unified School District has faced in the 156 years of the school district’s existence,’' Superintendent Bill Kowba said. ‘We’re in the fifth year of cuts. There is no end in sight.’'

School districts are required to have balanced budgets.

The district’s chief financial officer, Phil Stover, said funding from the state has dropped from $6,100 per student to $4,800 per student over the last three years.

Stover has warned board members for months that the easy cuts have been made, and options are limited from now on.

Current school board members have studiously avoided laying off teachers, but Stover said about 96 percent of the budget is “people-related,” so that might no longer be feasible.

However, the district’s labor contracts include agreements on class sizes and allocations of money to individual schools, according to Stover.

Among the possible solutions are campus closures, restructuring of schools, a return to half-day kindergarten, eliminating buses for magnet schools, halving the number of vice principals, and reducing or eliminating the employment of nurses, librarians and counselors.

“In the past four years, we’ve done everything possible to keep cuts out of the classroom,” Kowba said.

He said the Board of Education will begin discussions on the budget Tuesday night, but no decisions will be made. The district has to identify potential budget cuts in time for a report to the county Office of Education by Dec. 15.

District officials hope that voters within SDUSD boundaries will approve a parcel tax in November that would provide an additional $50 million, but Kowba acknowledged that would solve only part of the problem.

Proposition J requires a two-third majority for passage.