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Trustee’s view: San Diego school district facing tough decisions

By John DeBeck

Sixty million dollars is a lot of money. Since payroll is 80 percent of a school district’s budget, the current 2010 shortfall for San Diego city schools amounts to $48 million - the equivalent of the beginning salaries of 1,000 teachers, or one-sixth of our teaching staff.

Even with the state budget’s passage, there is considerable doubt that the state will fulfill the 2009 obligations - a budget based on uncertainties is still uncertain!

Meanwhile, I have proposed a furlough plan that would preserve all of the jobs. Action is required now, but so far, I am speaking to myself.

Picking away at the deficit remains the current board majority’s attempt to balance a budget. To ignore the $48 million is a total lack of fiscal competency, but that’s what they seem to be doing. That means they are dealing with books and supplies, water, heat and electricity. These overhead items are not easily cut, and tinkering around the margin may save a few million, but that is like sticking one’s head in the sand to avoid danger.

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The net effect of inaction is massive cuts or a negative certification from the county superintendent. Each year, the county schools leader must issue a statement about the solvency of all districts, certifying the financial report as positive, qualified or negative.

A negative certification for San Diego would increase the costs of Proposition S bonds and could require appointment of a district “czar” to oversee the operations of the school system as has happened in Oakland and Compton. Then the board would not have any decisions to make because the appointee would have the power to decide on his/her own.

The miracle expected by the board majority includes federal bailouts and “stealing” the required district 2 percent reserve of $20 million to make up for the salaries and using other funds with “flexibility.”

My proposed furlough of workdays can save up to $80 million over two years and preserve valuable programs and eliminate layoffs.

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Drastic as it seems, the plan, if implemented this year along with other savings, would preserve the board’s ability to guide the district through the current minefield and keep class sizes at the present level. I have yet to see any proposal that can offer the advantages and savings that the Furlough Plan would provide.

John DeBeck is the San Diego Unified School District trustee for Subdistrict C, which includes La Jolla.