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Trustees narrowly OK new school budget

It took a member to change her vote after the fact, but the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday night approved a $2 billion budget for the upcoming academic year.

The motion to approve the budget and certify that the district could balance its finances in two subsequent fiscal years failed on a 3-2 vote, with only board President Richard Barrera and John Lee Evans in favor.

Katherine Nakamura paused, said she was “struggling” with her decision, then voted no.

“OK, we have a big problem, folks,” Barrera said.

The budget and certification for 2011-12 and 2012-13 are due to the county Office of Education on Thursday.

Board member John De Beck said he could support the 2010-11 budget, but not the certification for future years, and called for separate motions.

Nakamura said she disagreed with certain budget decisions but offered to change her vote. She also noted the hard work put in by staff.

The motion passed 3-2 on her reconsideration.

Total spending in 2010-11 will be 7 percent less than the fiscal year that is ending.

Board members made a number of cuts in the past several months to close a revenue shortfall, including shifting funds from restricted funds designated for certain programs to the general fund. The Legislature allowed such flexibility when it started cutting school budgets a couple of years ago.

Chief Financial Officer Phil Stover said such transfers were at an end, with future cuts needing to come directly from the general fund.

More spending reductions are certain unless the Legislature somehow increases funding for education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

That will force the school board to look at significant workforce reductions, because nearly 91 percent of the general fund is tied up in salaries and benefits.

Consideration of the 2011-12 budget will begin at a retreat for district management scheduled for July 16.

“This is not a situation where we can sigh a breath of relief an say this is behind us,” Stover said.