The Santa Barbara school board Friday offered its vacant deputy superintendent job to Eric Smith, who came to the district last fall as an interim financial consultant to help it sort out a financial mess.

Smith was not present when the school board voted Friday evening to extend the offer, but he has expressed interest in the position, school board member Nancy Harter said Friday.

The board is offering Smith a salary of $186,000 — which is about $3,000 more than the base salary of his would-be boss, Superintendent Brian Sarvis, although Sarvis has a more extensive benefits package, Harter said.

School officials and union representatives alike have praised Smith’s financial acumen, saying they now finally trust that the budget numbers are accurate.

Last summer, a couple of months after the board made $2.5 million worth of budget cuts, the district’s business office thought that it had discovered a $5 million surplus, which gave the impression the cuts were unnecessary, Sarvis said Friday.

But, because of overstated revenues and understated expenses, the surplus was only $2 million, he said.

Sarvis said he moved the top two budget officials out of the district. They were replaced by full-time director Shirley Corpuz and Smith, who in the past has said publicly that he was not interested in becoming the permanent head of the finance department.

Smith could not be reached for comment Friday, but Harter said she believes “he was just trying to stay on the sidelines” during a prior search for a permanent hire that ended three weeks ago. At the time, Smith, who lives in Templeton, was not among the applicants for the position, she said, adding that the attempt failed to turn up a desired candidate. Sometime after, she said, Smith and Sarvis began discussing the possibility of Smith taking the position.

In January, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his state budget proposal, which called for cutting a record $4 billion from education in an effort to address a $14.5 billion budget gap. For the K-12 Santa Barbara school system, that means the school board must cut $4 million this spring from its $93 million discretionary budget for the 2008-09 school year.

Harter said Smith’s offer includes a component for “housing assistance.” It’s unclear whether this means the district will offer him assistance in affording a loan for a home in Santa Barbara, where the median house price is $1.2 million. But, she said, the contract includes a clause stating that if he is unable to secure a home loan within 90 days, he can terminate the contract.

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at