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SD school trustees institute hiring, spending freeze

By JAMES R. RIFFEL

City News Service

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday night voted unanimously to implement a hiring and spending freeze to deal with ongoing budgetary problems.

With an unplanned $16.6 million in extra spending required in the current fiscal year, and a deficit that could reach $180 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year, the board decided to tighten the reigns on spending now.

“We can’t afford to spend at budget” in the current year, board member Richard Barrera said. “We have to come in significantly under budget if we’re going to survive the next fiscal year.”

The motion approved by the board calls for exceptions for critical jobs or necessary spending, as determined by the superintendent.

At a budget workshop for the board just last week, district staff said exceptions would be needed to hire personnel required by the state or by grant funding, and a freeze might make it more difficult to attract qualified applicants.

Union leaders who spoke on the issue were not unanimously opposed to the freeze, but expressed concern about where the boundary for exceptions might fall, given that a number of librarian and other support positions remained vacant.

Board President Shelia Jackson promised that only “essential billets”

will be filled, not managerial positions.

“For every dollar that we spend, we have to ask if this is really necessary,” board member John Lee Evans said. “For every person we hire this year, we might have to lay off two next year.”

The school district faces a funding shortfall next year even without state budgetary woes factored in.

At the workshop, a district representative in Sacramento said kindergarten through 12th grade education does not have a champion among legislative leaders or in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office, and because it takes up 40 percent of state spending, it was a logical place to cut.

Barrera said the time to scrimp was now in order “to mitigate a devastating set of choices for next year.”

Interim Superintendent William Kowba said a team of administrators was combing through all district budgets — both academic and business — to find savings and will report its results at another workshop Nov. 17.

The school board also scheduled a special meeting for Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. to further discuss San Diego State University’s recent decision to accept fewer students within its service area south of state Route 56.