School trustee to offer plan to balance budget without campus closures

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego Unified School District Trustee Scott Barnett said today he will introduce a plan next week to keep the district solvent without closing campuses.

“In the weeks and months ahead, this district is going to be fighting for its very survival,” Barnett said at a news conference.

He said his first priority now is to keep the SDUSD from “going under” financially and being taken over by the state, but he thinks the odds of success are slim because his colleagues are unwilling to make tough decisions.

Barnett pointed to Tuesday's board meeting, in which he said other school board members taunted the state over whether it would actually assume control of the district. He called their comments “reckless.”

“I think there's a belief the state just won't close us down, that it's unfathomable that it would happen,” Barnett said. The reality is that the SDUSD is “first in line in front of the cliff,” he said.

District officials are proposing to shut down or realign up to 14 campuses next school year to save $5 million, with a disproportionate share falling in the neighborhoods he represents, he said.

He conceded that Barnard Elementary School, in the Midway District, is dilapidated and needs to be closed. He also called the idea of merging Mission Bay High School and Pacific Beach Middle School an “exciting concept.”

Barnett offered few clues to how he would close a projected budget shortfall that could reach $100 million for the 2012-13 academic year, other than to say he would go after the big money, which is tied up in personnel. About 90 percent of the SDUSD's general fund is tied up in employee expenses, he said.

The program-by-program reductions made by the school board in previous years did not produce enough savings, according to Barnett.

Unions will have to offer compensation concessions, but their leaders are not recognizing the seriousness of the problem, he said.

“If they're not part of the solution, this district will go under,” Barnett said.

He promised to reveal the plan, which he said he is still working on, Monday, and introduce it at a board meeting Tuesday.

Categories: KUSI