San Diego schools to get some financial relief

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Education funding is set to increase under Gov. Jerry Brown’s “precariously balanced” state budget proposal. The San Diego Unified School District Tuesday outlined plans to use that little bit of unexpected money to continue working toward lowering class sizes, helping English-learning and disabled students and engaging more parents in the learning process.

Brown’s budget proposal for the 2015-16 fiscal year reflects a $4.8 billion increase in educational funding from this year, with an additional $4 billion for implementing the Local Control Funding Formula. A portion of that — $23.6 million — could potentially go to San Diego Unified. It also includes $1.1 billion in one-time discretionary grants designed to offset state debts owed to school districts. The state owes San Diego Unified about $68.6 million, but the district could potentially recoup $19 million of that next year, according to Martha Alvarez, the district’s Director of Government Relations, and Chief Financial Officer Jenny Salkeld.

The district’s top priorities for the spending increase were closing its projected $41.3 million structural deficit, which would be partially offset with central office cuts, program adjustments and more lease options, building up reserves, looking into filling “critically needed” positions and programs and ramping up salaries and programs.

The Board of Education unanimously accepted a list of budget recommendations. Plans include working toward lowering kindergarten through third grade class size ratios from 25:1 to 22:1 in the 34 most economically disadvantaged schools and from 25.5:1 to 24:1 at other campuses; improving services for English learners and disabled students; ramping up counseling support, especially focusing on college readiness; and getting parents more involved, according to Superintendent Cindy Marten.

“What we’ve identified in our priorities is what we’re going to do. We still have to further develop the how,” Board President Marne Foster said.

Marten said the district should continue working toward those goals, although the funding amounts reflected in Brown’s budget were around $18 million to $30 million short of what was needed to fully fund implementing every item on the list.

Maintaining a fiscal balance was also considered an ongoing challenge because balanced budgets have historically preceded huge deficits. Retirement contributions are also expected to increase, and Brown did not address those costs in his budget proposal.

“There has to continue to be a funding adequacy conversation at the state level,” Marten said.

Starting next month, state budget subcommittees will review Brown’s budget proposal, which will lead to a revised version that will be issued in May. State legislators are required to pass a balanced budget by June 15.

Categories: KUSI