Thursday, October 27, 2011

San Diego school district faces possible insolvency

The San Diego Unified School District's board of trustees got a cold, harsh dose of fiscal reality from its financial consultant and its staff Tuesday night. Then it took an earful from angry parents, staff and even fifth-graders from schools the district has slated for possible closure. Aside from some sparring on whether to reduce busing, a spat that ended with a majority of the board voting to reject further cuts, there was little actual action at Tuesday's meeting. Rather, the marathon meeting was an opportunity for the board to air publicly the true depth of its financial woes and blame the state for those woes.
Bennett outlined the state's decision to project an optimistic $4 billion in extra revenues state, and described the legislative mandate from Sacramento that school districts must spend the money, even though they might never actually get it. His description of the budget games being played sent gasps through the 300-strong crowd of sign-waving education supporters, many of whom had clearly come to talk about school closures and seemed to be learning the details of the district's dire financial situation for the first time.
After further stunning the crowd with statistics — he said if the state makes midyear cuts to San Diego Unified's budget, the district will be down to the same per-student funding level it was at 11 years ago.
The topic isn't new to the district. Internally, it's been discussing possible insolvency for years even as the board has taken gambles on the state's situation improving, potentially compounding the grave financial situation.
The purpose of Bennett's presence at the meeting seemed more aimed at educating the broader public about just how dire things really are at San Diego Unified. Coming two weeks after district Superintendent Bill Kowba (who remained silent throughout Tuesday's four-and-a-half-hour meeting) announced the district was "at the edge of the cliff, looking over and down at insolvency," the presentation was the latest in a line of recent public proclamations of distress by the district.
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman posted at 8:52 am on Wed, Oct 26, 2011. Posts: 497 I really appreciated Will Carless' accurate account of that School Board meeting last night: sound and fury signifying nothing. Theater, grandstanding, heartfelt appeals, tainted Board members berating staff, no decisions, a silent Superintendent.

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