The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday certified projections the district might be in a precarious financial condition within the next few years.

The board gave a “qualified” certification to district finances in the second of three annual reports required by the state.

Eugene Brucker Education Center is headquarters of the San Diego Unified School District. Photo courtesy sandi.net

Districts can file a “positive” certification if officials are certain they can meet their obligations in the current and next two fiscal years. A “qualified” status means they’re uncertain, and a “negative” certification means they will not be able to pay their bills.

District financial staffers were projecting a shortfall for 2014-15 fiscal year, based on current assumptions, but have identified $62.2 million in solutions to fill the gap without laying off teachers.

Trustee Scott Barnett said that although next year’s budget could be balanced, he cautioned against the use of one-time revenue, such as the proceeds from real estate sales.

Included in the vote was moving forward with an early retirement program for eligible teachers in hopes of saving $32.9 million over the next five years — part of the proposed package of budget solutions.

Bill Freeman, president of the San Diego Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers, said he supported the district offering early retirement and believed the district would meet its goal for participants.

“Although I don’t necessarily agree with their structural deficit numbers, I would rather see them control staff by attrition than by layoffs,” Freeman said.

The budget gap forecast for the 2015-16 fiscal year is $67.5 million.

In the first of what the state calls interim status reports, San Diego Unified School District also gave a qualified certification, along with the Alpine Elementary and Ramona City Unified districts. The San Ysidro Elementary School District issued a negative certification.

Last year, six districts in San Diego County — including San Diego Unified — issued reports that suggested financial uncertainty.

The decline matches a statewide trend, according to the state Department of Education. The agency said 49 districts around California gave out qualified or negative certifications in this year’s first interim report, compared to 92 in the final report last year and 124 in the first one last year.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.