SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A dispute broke open Thursday among trustees of the San Diego Unified School District over the perilous nature of the agency's finances.
The district has issued layoff notices to numerous employees as it grapples with a projected budget shortfall of more than $100 million for the next school year.
School board member Scott Barnett scheduled, then canceled, a news conference in which he planned to propose an overhaul of the district's finances. He then said he would meet with reporters later.
"It's time for all of us to accept the truth -- we are insolvent and must act," Barnett said.
School board President John Lee Evans held his own press event instead and urged a "calm, rational approach to the problem."
He said debate has reached extremes.
"One board member is panicking and saying we need to declare insolvency," Evans said. "Some union leaders have said that the financial crisis is not as deep as we have been saying."
He also criticized San Diego mayoral candidates for opining about how to run the SDUSD without knowing the facts.
One of those candidates, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis -- the most outspoken in her comments about the district during the campaign -- released a statement that supported Evans' point of view.
"San Diegans don't want to see our schools declared insolvent and turned over to the state for the same reason they didn't want the city of San Diego to declare bankruptcy in 2005 -- it's a cop out that turns our destiny over to others instead of solving the problem," Dumanis said. "San Diego took the tougher path of reform, and the result is a better city government -- the same needs to happen at San Diego Unified."
She said a state takeover of the district would be "a disaster" for students and the area economy, since no one will relocate a business to a city where the school district has gone "belly up."
Barnett said the question is whether to give up political control or lose about 2,000 employees who've been issued pink slips.
"We're using desperation tactics, we're devastating classrooms," Barnett said.
He said class sizes will rise dramatically, and the district will have to sell off $20 million of its property.
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