Tuesday, March 31, 2009

CURIOUSER+CURIOUSER: On television this morning Superintendent Cortines seemed to say he would resign if the Board of Ed didn’t agree to his budget and staff reduction proposals. They didn’t… but don’t expect that resignation just yet.

Video from KNBC:TV  Cortines: “I am tired of this District being run by hundreds of e-mails.

“If they (the Board of Ed)  have lost  confidence in me then its time for me to go. After a year of putting this budget in place, it’s not just a difficult decision – it’s the only decision.”

follow the timeline:

LA school board to cut $730 million

Los Angeles Times – 9:59 AM | March 31, 2009 

Groups representing parents, employees and other interest groups are expected to pack the district headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District ...

LA school board puts off vote on huge layoff

San Diego Union Tribune - 4:42 p.m. March 31, 2009

The board previously approved sending notices of impending layoffs to nearly 9000 employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District but has not ...

LA school board delays vote to layoff 8500

San Francisco Chronicle – 6:11 PM| March 31, 2009

By CHRISTINA HOAG, The Associated Press

4:42 p.m. March 31, 2009

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Board of Education has put off a vote on whether to lay off thousands of teachers and other workers because of a huge budget deficit in the nation's second-largest school district.

Crowds of teachers and support workers packed the board room Tuesday and demonstrated loudly outside.

The board previously approved sending notices of impending layoffs to nearly 9,000 employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District but has not implemented them.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines says the district will go bankrupt without the layoffs. But when a board member indicated the decision might be put off for a month, he asked that it only be delayed to April 14. Cortines said he will meet with all the district's unions to discuss alternatives including salary cuts and furloughs.

The district faces a $718 million budget shortfall.


LA Unified cuts $140.6 million from budget

Los Angeles Times | By Howard Blume
6:44 PM PDT, March 31, 2009

The Board of Education postponed a decision on cuts for next year's budget, which could cost thousands of jobs. They'll revisit the issue April 14.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials Tuesday approved $140.6 million in budget cuts, but postponed a more difficult decision that could have cost thousands of jobs. At a packed meeting marked by demonstrations and impassioned speeches, the Board of Education acted on only one of two measures recommended by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.
The one that passed without dissent balances the books for L.A. Unified's current school year, in part by using new legal flexibility to transfer money originally set aside for other purposes. The school system will also rent fewer buildings, among other measures, to fill holes in the nearly $6-billion budget.

But the board and Cortines postponed a decision on $596.1 million in additional cuts for next year that Cortines had previously described as essential to act upon quickly. Employee groups and parents have been pressuring board members over more than 8,500 potential job losses as well as the larger class sizes and reduced services that would result.

Facing a reluctant school board, Cortines offered more time to explore alternative solutions, which probably would mean unpaid days off or outright pay cuts, he said. Such measures would require concessions from employee unions. Some unions are ready to discuss furloughs to save jobs, but not the teachers union, whose leaders said that new, one-time federal stimulus funds and other actions could cure the deficit.

meanwhile, back at the beach….

Venice parents rally against expanding principal's role

10:31 AM | March 31, 2009

Several dozen parents were protesting this morning what they said was a proposal to make the principal a part-time administrator at Broadway Elementary School in Venice.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is proposing that the school’s principal oversee several schools in the area, according to the parents.

“We need a full-time principal because our school is a full-time school,” said Rocio Hernandez, a mother of three boys who attend the school in Venice’s Oakwood neighborhood.

Cars passed along Lincoln Boulevard honking their horns in support as a parent beat a drum and others waved placards that read: “No 1/2 Time Principals,” and “A Whole School Needs a Whole Principal.”

LAUSD officials have said they face difficult choices in cutting the budget to deal with a fiscal crisis facing the district.

-- Robert J. Lopez



Office of the Superintendent


TO: Ramon C. Cortines ,
Superintendent of Schools

FROM: Bill Siart , Senior Advisor to the Superintendent

March 30, 2009



After reviewing the Contract Audit Report and following up with Roberta Fesler and Guy Mehula, I have the following conclusions/recommendations:

1. The use of outside contractors during 2006-07 was appropriate

2. The report provides recommendations that should be implemented

3. Facilities Services should develop a clear strategy for the future

1. Cost of 2006-07 Consultants - During the time period of 2001-07, it would have been extremely difficult for the Facilities team to recruit, hire and train a specialized team to complete the construction of 167,000 new seats by 2013. During this time period, Los Angeles was experiencing a construction boom and the LAUSD Facilities Division did not have the reputation as an employer of choice. Given the high demand for talent at the time, it is reasonable that the Facilities Division needed to pay a premium for some contracted positions.

On a side note, it is important to point out that the funding used for these consultants could only be used for facilities. The LAUSD was not jeopardizing any other programs (e.g. teachers) to support its construction activities. In order to ensure that all students have the opportunity to attend a school that is on a traditional school calendar as soon as possible, it is understandable that the Facilities Division leveraged consultants.

2. Recommendations – I would encourage the Facilities Division to continue to implement the recommendations highlighted in the report by the Inspector General. The recommendations will help ensure the Facilities Services Division in maximizing funding to deliver high quality services to schools. Given the changes in the economy the LAUSD should be in a good position to renegotiate its consultant rates. In addition, it is my understanding that the Facilities Division has updated its policies and procedures to address some of the concerns that were highlighted in the report. The implementation and impact of these changes should be clearly presented to the Bond Oversight Committee on a regular basis.

3. Strategic Vision - The District must continue to implement a new strategic vision for building seats over the next 10 years, with the remainder of the existing Board funds, and the new Measure Q money. The revised Strategy should be presented to the Bond Oversight Committee as well.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this in more detail.


c: Members, Board of Education

James Morris

David Holmquist

Roberta Fesler

Guy Mehula

Gayle Pollard-Terry

Jeff Crain

Jerry Thornton

Randy Ross


By George B. Sanchez, Staff Writer  | LA Newspaper Group/Daily News/Daily Breeze



3/31 — Los Angeles Unified officials should adopt tough measures to rein in the power of costly private consultants or face "a loss of government control" of the district's massive $27billion school construction project, according to an audit released Monday.

Don’t take anyone's word for it:


The audit by Inspector General Jerry Thornton found that consultants had taken over much of the day-to-day running of the building program and that there were no policies "limiting the types of functions consultants may perform."

Focusing on the 2006-07 school year, the audit said district officials could have saved $77 million that year had they used their own employees rather than consultants.

To take back more control of the program, the audit says district officials should remove consultants from senior-level management positions and replace them with district employees.

The audit tallied the number of consultants employed in LAUSD's Facilities Services Division, which oversees the building program; their total cost; and the cost of using consultants versus employees. A review of consultant and contractor policies also was included.

The audit was sharply criticized by Greg Garcia, director of facilities contracts.

"The current program is widely regarded as one of the most successful public works programs in the nation," Garcia wrote.

Chief Facilities Executive Guy Mehula declined to comment on the audit.

Thornton's audit also recommends that the district:

  • Ensure consultants meet minimum requirements, such as a college degree and previous work experience.
  • Prevent conflict of interest in consultants approving time cards for other consultants.
  • Prevent consultants from supervising other consultants from the same firm.
  • Require consultants to clearly identify themselves so as not to be confused with district employees.
  • Properly document project management hiring, evaluation and promotion.

"This raises many questions and concerns about who is being held to account for the use of public dollars in the most responsive way," said Board of Education member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who chairs the facilities committee.

"I've been asking these questions for a year and it took an I.G. (Inspector General) report to get clear answers."

Flores Aguilar and other board members will be briefed in closed session today about the report and reorganization plans.

On average, consultants earned 70percent more than LAUSD employees in the same position in the 2006-07 school year. During that period, 1,277 consultants were employed at a cost of $186million.

Consultants are paid with money from the district's $27billion bond program.

The audit said 84 percent of consultants have worked for the district for more than two years and 16percent for more than five years.

For years, LAUSD has justified its heavy reliance on consultants in the building program because it lacked expertise, and the district did not offer wages competitive with the private sector.

But after 12 years of school- building, top officials say it's to time rethink the dependence on contractors.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the majority of construction funds should now be going to repair and maintenance, reducing the need for construction consultants.

District Press Release

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Monday, March 30, 2009

OBAMA: "Almost all the money that's going to states under the Recovery Act for education is designed to retain teachers."

The Associated Press

Photo 1 of 4

In this March 18, 2009, file photo Isa de Quesada, a teacher at McFaden Intermediate School in Santa Ana, Calif., reacts to President Barack Obama's answer to her question about stimulus dollars for education, "How are we going to make sure that money comes to our districts?", during a town hall meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif. De Quesada said she was about to be laid off, and Obama answered, "Almost all the money that's going to states under the Recovery Act for education is designed to retain teachers." (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

PROMISES, PROMISES: Saving teacher jobs tough


30 March 2009 - 10AM PST —WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama promises his economic stimulus law will save hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs, but some states could end up spending the money on playground equipment or wallpaper — and the president might not have the authority to stop them.

Obama says nearly all of the education money in the Recovery Act, which will start going out to states this week, is designed to retain teachers.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatens to "come down like a ton of bricks" on anyone who defies the administration's plans to bring relief to states like California where 26,500 teachers have gotten pink slips. Across the country, 9 percent of teachers — about 294,000 — may face layoffs because of budget cuts, according to a University of Washington study.

But plans for the money are pulling in other directions, particularly in states with Republican governors:

  • Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle wants to fill a budget gap.
  • Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wants to hold the money in reserve.
  • South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford wants to pay down debt; he's been turned down by the White House budget office and is threatening to refuse some of the money, as is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

There are loopholes in the stimulus law for both states and school districts.

Of the $100 billion for education in the stimulus bill, $40 billion comes as part of a fund to stabilize state and local budgets that has fewer strings attached. As the bill made its way through Congress, lawmakers decided not to prohibit states from using the stabilization money to replace precious state aid for schools. That means instead of getting extra help to weather tough times, school districts could wind up with the no additional state aid even as local tax revenues plummet.

State lawmakers and governors in Kansas, Rhode Island and Texas are among those seeking to use their federal stimulus dollars to replace state aid, rather than add to it.

In addition, the law was written so broadly that most of the stabilization dollars can be spent on just about anything — carpet, wallpaper, playground equipment, even new school construction — which may bother Senate moderates who insisted on dropping a new school construction program before they would vote for the bill.

That's because school districts can spend the money as federal impact aid, a relatively small program for poorly funded districts. By contrast, most federal education dollars are supposed to be spent on teacher salaries or academics.

"Congress opened a Pandora's Box to allow districts to use the funds for impact aid," said Michael Brustein, a Washington attorney who represents several state education agencies. "How you enforce against that is anyone's guess."

Santa Ana, Calif., English teacher Isa de Quesada is waiting to hear whether the stimulus dollars will bring her and 10 other teachers back to their school this fall. If not, class sizes at her school and others could swell, hurting the emphasis on quality education.

"Right now, I have 40 in two of my classes; we could go to 50 to 55 next year," she said in an interview.

Recently, de Quesada had the chance to ask Obama about it in person when the president visited for a town hall meeting: "How are we going to make sure that money comes to our districts?" she said.

Obama replied that "the lion's share" of the money is to keep teachers on the job.

Duncan said he can come down hard on states that don't comply because he is releasing the money in installments, and because he will award billions of dollars in competitive grants later this year.

"And if we see an instance or two, or whatever it might be, where folks are not operating in good faith," he said, "we will both withhold that second set of money, and we will eliminate them from any possible competition to receive these billions of dollars in discretionary money."

Duncan also said last week he is looking for ways to force money to states where governors have said they would refuse it.

The administration could also face intense political pressure from members of Congress if stimulus money for their states is withheld.

"The jury is really still out on how forceful the Obama administration is going to be on this," said Amy Wilkins, a lobbyist for Education Trust, a children's advocacy group.

"We've heard a lot of secretaries of education talk about rigorous enforcement and, `We are really going to hold them accountable,'" she said. "We rarely get that."

The administration lobbied successfully to attach other strings to the money. In their applications, states must show improvement in teacher quality, data systems, academic standards and tests and supporting struggling schools.

Applications for the stabilization dollars will be available this week, and two-thirds of the money for education, $27 billion, will be released within two weeks of an application's approval. K through 12 dollars are another reason why it may be tough to keep teachers from losing their jobs.

That money goes to states through a formula tied to state spending. The less a state spends on education, the less federal money it gets — and that works against states in the worst financial shape.


The Probation Department will place officers at three high schools and a middle school in hopes of stemming gang violence in the Valley. The program is already in place at 120 L.A. County schools.

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | LA Times


March 30, 2009 - In an effort to combat gangs and prevent teenagers from being arrested, Los Angeles County officials are stationing more juvenile probation officers at local public schools.

Probation Chief Robert Taylor and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky appeared Friday at the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in Pacoima to announce that they were adding three high schools and a middle school in the area to probation's School-Based Supervision program.

"The younger we can get them, the easier it is to mold them and channel them in a positive direction," Yaroslavsky said.

Taylor noted that more than 3,300 youths are in detention at the county's 22 juvenile halls and camps.

"To reduce that, you have to get to them before they're in custody," Taylor said. "We know you can't just treat the youth -- you have to treat the family as a whole."

The schools added to the program are Birmingham Senior High in Van Nuys, John F. Kennedy High in Granada Hills, Panorama High in Panorama City and Charles Maclay Middle in Pacoima.

It will cost $579,000 to send a probation officer to each school and provide computer equipment and clerical support, according to Yaroslavsky spokesman Joel Bellman. Bellman said the money comes from a portion of a federal grant for juvenile justice.

School-Based Supervision has placed probation officers at 90 high schools and 30 middle schools countywide since 2000, said Paul Vinetz, a program director. The program serves 13- to 18-year-olds in and out of probation and has a budget for this fiscal year of $14.5 million.

"We're enhancing the presence in the Valley because of the increase in gangs around Pacoima," Vinetz said at Friday's meeting at the Boys & Girls Club. "Just this morning we saw some gang graffiti near here, crossing each other out. Our campuses are safe havens."

Although crime in the Valley has decreased in recent years, about 16 gangs still operate in the area and one of the best ways to combat them is by reaching youths before they become involved, said Los Angeles Police Capt. Joe Curreri. Community leaders praised the program.

"We endorse this approach," said the Rev. John Lassigne of Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Pacoima. "Any solution to gang violence has to address the family, the school and the home."

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Ana Kasparian | LA Politics in Education Examiner | www.examiner.com

March 25 -- The Los Angeles Unified School District was under much scrutiny three years ago when it was discovered that two of its high schools had dropout rates above 50 percent. In fact, Jefferson High in South Los Angeles had a dropout rate of 52.1 percent, with Belmont High following at 51 percent. In response to this, members of the school board decided to launch a program dubbed the "Diploma Project," that aimed to prevent potential dropouts.

The $10 million project assigned counselors to 49 middle and high schools that suffered the highest dropout rates. These counselors would encourage at-risk students to continue their education by providing one-on-one interaction and academic attention. For instance, those who were intimidated by the high school exit exam could depend on the counselors for guidance to pass the graduation requirement.

Although the program has proven to be relatively successful, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines is putting a stop to it. In fact, Cortines characterized the district's overall counseling program as wasteful. With 9,000 layoff notices sent out to LAUSD employees, it's obvious that budget cuts are really beginning to strip away the quality of the country's second largest school district.

Another example of Cortines' money-saving strategy is to issue one librarian to all secondary schools. If a particular school wants more than one librarian, or if an elementary schools wants a librarian at all, the school must purchase library services at the expense of something else. Art programs will also have to compete for a very limited amount of money.

What I find interesting is that Barack Obama's economic stimulus package gives $130 billion to education in the United States. That is a great deal of money, and although schools in California are going through a severe budget crisis, Obama's stimulus includes a $54 billion State Stabilization Fund. This money is meant to specifically alleviate any immediate deficit issues the country's school districts may have.

Cortines obviously has a difficult job in front of him. It is not easy to be in charge of a large school district that is facing a historical budget crisis. But in his aim to cut wasteful spending in the LAUSD, he is targeting components of education that are essential for academic success. Why doesn't Cortines put a stop to flat screen TVs at the LAUSD headquarters in Downtown L.A? How about lowing the ridiculously high salaries of top officials and administrators within the school system. This isn't something I'm making up. The LA Daily News wrote an article exposing the unbelievable amount of money the LAUSD spends on unnecessary administrators and flat screen TVs. Daily News staff writer Beth Barret writes:

"District and union officials said some of the bureaucratic buildup may have come at the expense of teachers' compensation even as LAUSD continues to lag in statewide test scores and grapples with a 33.6 percent dropout rate that is far higher than the statewide average of 24.2 percent."

The school system needs to stop laying off teachers and librarians and start getting rid of assistants to assistants in the Downtown office. There is so much wasteful spending in the LAUSD, and as soon as money is tight, officials immediately target anything that could potentially make education BETTER for students.


Ericha Parks | LA School District Examiner | www.examiner.com

Google images►

March 26 — California schools are in need of a federal bail out to backfill money cut by the state.   What, if anything, does the federal stimulus package have to offer schools?                     

School districts in Southern California scramble to review, balance and amend their budgets in light of the state budget crisis. This balancing act has many school districts asking questions about infusions of federal money.  Because the state cuts dramatically impact school district budgets, which has about an 84 percent budget for salaries, many teachers were served with pink slips this month.

Should teachers and school districts hold out hope of recovery from Obama’s stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009))?  What about the schools that do not qualified for Title I money?  Will there be any money for the average school in California?

The answer is surprisingly, yes.  There is some hope.  Weave in and out of the intricate provisions of the federal and state departments that fund the stimulus package, and there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.  In reviewing the stimulus package, as it relates to California education,  many schools will benefit from the federal aid. However, the biggest benefactors of that money will be impoverished schools.

Title I, or disadvantaged schools, will receive the most money to improve academic achievement. The second biggest benefactor of the education federal aid is a fund that is called Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).  After Title I and IDEA money, there are other specific earmarks for funding, such as: National Science Foundation, child nutrition, child care, Headstart, school improvements, impact aid for students on federal land, education technology for closing education gaps, statewide data systems for tracking progress, education for the homeless, grants for retaining teachers in schools that have education gaps, teacher quality achievement for higher education, state fiscal stabilization fund for low performing schools and Qualified Zone Academy Program for closing the gap in impoverished areas.

Many high-risk and low performing California schools will see money from this federal stimulus package under many of the earmarks. Indeed, many of our California schools are infested with gangs, drugs and a high drop out rate, whereby warranting general relief in these high risk areas. However, some of our higher performing schools have suffered as well as evidenced by the massive layoffs in all school districts. Certainly, there has to be some sort of relief for the average school that is not considered high risk.  The average school has also suffered slashed budgets resulting in a loss of teachers.

I reviewed IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Act, run by the US Department of Education. It is the second largest benefactor of the federal aid money. IDEA grants California money for schools to use for special services for disabled students. Although schools generally receive money each year from this fund, the new stimulus plan dramatically increases this budget. This might be the hope that the average school needs to help relieve their budget shortfalls with a much needed infusion.

There appears to be no real relief offered to higher performing schools in the budget earmarks proposed by Obama’s plan.  But the IDEA stimulus line-item is a different story.  Luckily, digging a little deeper into the new IDEA Part B line item in the stimulus plan, the average school would find that it provides for a federal budget infusion of $6 Billion in additional funding for students with disabilities.  Of that federal money, $1.2 Billion is budgeted for California's Department of Education for distribution to California schools.  This is where it gets tricky.  Depending on how this IDEA bail out money is allocated, there could be some real relief for average performing schools in addition to the underperforming schools in California.

To demonstrate how this federal IDEA money could help average schools, I analyzed a local school district’s budget (for 2008-2009) as it relates to spending for special needs students. This particular school district received approximately $2 Million in funding aid from IDEA, for this school year. However, the school district spent an additional $12.5 Million in excess of the IDEA funding.  In other words, IDEA federal money does not pay the actual cost for students with disabilities expenditures. In fact, it only covers a fraction of the cost.  This additional IDEA money is something that the school district should be entitled to receive to backfill the $12.5 Million deficit.

Since many schools are looking for ways to backfill their slashed budgets, this might be the key to supplementing average schools with funds from the federal aid package. Although this money is allocated to states by grants, it is difficult to discover how this additional IDEA money will find its way to various schools. Governor Schwarzenneger is currently sifting through the package and will make two payouts of this IDEA Part B bail out money. One payout will be at the end of this month and again in the fall. According to the United States Department of Education, IDEA Part B, Administration and Support, states can "distribute amounts in any order".  This could be a good lobbying point for California schools to appropriately secure a portion of the IDEA line-item in the stimulus fund.

CORTINES’ MANY-HEADED LAUSD MONSTER: Schools teeter on fiscal cliff while the superintendent tries "decentralization"


March 18, 2009 — When Ramon C. Cortines hit the ground as the Los Angeles Unified School District’s new superintendent in December, he hit it not only running but also firing at lots of moving targets. In such a target-rich environment as LAUSD, his style has proved entertaining, even while his marksmanship remains unclear.

Cortines sometimes arrives at work at 4:30 a.m., and is unafraid of making demands of administrators, with whom he is direct and even brusque. He dislikes attending school board meetings, and can be impatient.

“Maybe it’s the fact that he’s 76 years old,” his chief financial officer, Megan K. Reilly, jokes. “When he wants things, you know it.”

Cortines was the de facto superintendent even before David Brewer left. He had a stint as interim superintendent here in 2000, when he attempted to decentralize the huge LAUSD—peeling schools away from tight district control, adding a new layer of administration in the form of minidistricts, and also giving more purchasing power to individual schools.

Cortines is pursuing that path again, but critics are already saying he’s taking on many targets at once, too many of them too poorly thought-out.

Scott Folsom, vice president of Tenth District Parent Teacher Student Association, and a member of an oversight committee that watches over how LAUSD spends construction bonds, says, “He was very subscribed to the decentralization plan he wrote 10 years ago. ... My personal feeling is that in the kind of economic era we’re in, centralization makes more sense.”

Cortines wants to give principals more authority to budget for their own schools, which, Folsom warns, is likely to be very costly, particularly since LAUSD principals cannot be fired or held accountable nearly as easily as charter-school principals can — and few of the principals have any budgeting experience.

“LAUSD principals are not prepared for that job,” Folsom says. “They don’t have the wherewithal, the power, the training. ...Their idea of balancing a budget is checkbook balancing.”

Cortines faces even more skepticism from the United Teachers Los Angeles. Many teachers remember how “decentralization” made for conspicuous consumption by the minidistricts early in this decade. Now they fear the fiscal battles facing LAUSD will hurt teachers while Cortines fiddles with an old experiment.

It’s going to be a rocky time, many watching Cortines and the Antonio Villaraigosa–allied school board seem to agree. Teachers packed a board meeting on March 11, protesting Cortines’ mere sending out of notices informing them that at some point, some of them may be laid off. He had already let fly a proposal to send similar layoff notices to 2,300 teachers in early January, and got hammered by UTLA so badly that he pulled back.

The governor meanwhile has warned schools to prepare for dramatic fiscal uncertainties — fears that Cortines passed along to parents in a January letter sent home with all 680,000 students. In emotional language, he warned that children “may lose a favorite teacher” and cautioned parents in English and Spanish that “LAUSD must prepare for the worst.”

Beyond spooking parents, Cortines’ fiscal plan has created more confusion than anything else. His “Flexibility Plan” is filled with worst-case scenarios and calls for pie-in-the-sky revenue ideas that have little chance of being approved by voters in time to bail out the district.

One idea proposes to change the California Constitution to lower the bar for passing a special parcel tax — a property tax — from 66 percent of voters to a simple majority of 50 percent plus one.

Reilly, the chief financial officer, has joined the district’s longtime lobbyist, Santiago Jackson, in pushing the Flexibility Plan to stakeholder communities such as parents and teachers. And Cortines has been introducing the exhausting dog-and-pony show not only to his own school board bosses, but also to all kinds of quixotic audiences, including those who attended town hall–style gatherings at Dahlia Heights Elementary in Eagle Rock and Grant High in Valley Glen.

He even poured scarce district cash into a 27-minute video on “Flexibility,” explaining his budgetary woes via the Internet. In a new Internet video, Cortines sits with Reilly and rambles on, largely about himself for several minutes, while his respected CFO remains mute.

LAUSD says it’s $718 million short this year, with stimulus help coming — but its dimension uncertain.

The one flush area Cortines enjoys is the billions of dollars local taxpayers are pumping into school construction and rehabilitation. Five such bonds were approved by local voters over the past 11 years, and Angelenos will be repaying that money in some cases through the year 2044.

Some think tanks like the libertarian Reason Foundation and taxpayer groups have slammed the construction effort as a buy-now, pay-later building campaign. Other critics note that glitzy, often far too large and unwieldy, schools are rising in a district rapidly losing students to charter schools and middle-class flight — yet Cortines is talking about even more taxes.

The building campaign was sold to the not-yet-bond-fatigued public as desperately needed to address overcrowding. But in recent years, LAUSD has lost more than 50,000 students. Cortines insists the money is well-used, and Reilly denies that some new schools are superfluous, saying, “The District does complex demographic modeling five, 10 years out.”

Eugene Turner, a demographer in Cal State Northridge’s Geography Department, says that beyond the five-year projections, however, “we’re not sure how people are going to respond to the economic climate, and net domestic migration has been negative for L.A. County for at least the last 10 years.”

Cortines has yet to address the huge costs LAUSD incurs by having district leaders devote so many administrative and management resources to a massive, contractor-friendly building campaign — while other key school issues languish.

When the school board selected outsider Brewer as superintendent in late 2006, many observers believed the board was sending a message that it was not going to focus solely on bricks and mortar in a district riddled with student-achievement problems. But under Brewer, the school board spent much of its time on contracts, not student achievement. Brewer was also taken by surprise by administrative catastrophes, such as the notorious payroll-processing crisis he inherited — but then made worse — and a less-publicized IT meltdown.

“I’m actually surprised (Cortines) allowed the district to fire Brewer,” Folsom says. “Cortines seemed content to work with Brewer behind the scenes, and Brewer worked Sacramento well.”

Unlike with longtime Superintendent Roy Romer, who enjoyed political gravitas as a former governor of Colorado, few might be expected to blink when Cortines barks at town hall appearances or on Internet podcasts. And that could spell trouble for his complicated plan to “decentralize” LAUSD amidst a budget war.

His plan is not only experimental, it is the opposite of the path chosen in New York and Washington, D.C., where bad, big urban districts are using centralized powers to reverse long declines in student achievement. Nor does Cortines offer a way to give individual schools more power, as with charters, balanced with the crucial power that charters have to fire principals and teachers who can’t handle it.

Cortines may also face an unreceptive State Board of Education, where the governor recently appointed Rae Belisle, a strong advocate of using research-based classroom reforms already working in other states, and who is no fan of fads that often speed through troubled urban school districts.

The UTLA is also not playing along. It made Cortines cry uncle the first time he proposed to notify teachers of layoffs, and has issued an even more urgent call to arms in the wake of last week’s raucous board meeting. The union brazenly has even asked for raises.

CFO Reilly sees Cortines’ frenetic pace of announcements and public appeals as positive, saying, “I think that the energy of Cortines does ignite a fire around here.”

The question is whether Cortines, the superintendent in a hurry, will continue issuing dire predictions while bending the moment to suit his decade-old decentralization agenda, or go with more basic goals in his second hundred days in the job.


by Scott Adams | 29 March 2009


L.A. UNIFIED CUTS SPARK PROTESTS, FINGER POINTING: In an attempt to redirect the budget ax, organizations have launched campaigns for each potential victim and rallied their members to make calls and write e-mails and letters to Supt. Ramon Cortines.

L.A. Unified cuts spark protests, finger-pointing


By Raja Abdulrahim | LA Times
7:19 PM PDT

Queen of Hearts: Who's been painting my roses red?
Card: Not me, your grace! The ace, the ace!
Queen of Hearts: You?
Card: No, two!
Queen of Hearts: The two, you say?
Card: Not me! The three!

March 29, 2009 — As Los Angeles Unified Supt. Ramon Cortines and the Board of Education attempt to bridge a $718-million budget deficit with widespread cuts and layoffs, supporters of each program, position and school at risk are pointing the finger elsewhere as they try to redirect the budget ax. It is oddly reminiscent of a scene from "Alice in Wonderland" as all sides try to escape fiscal pain. The board could vote on the budget cuts on Tuesday.

Parent groups, unions and other organizations have launched campaigns for each potential fiscal victim and rallied their members to make calls and write e-mails and letters. They've flooded the offices of the board and the superintendent, who said he has received between 50 and 100 e-mails, calls and letters a day.

"Because that's the way we do business in L.A., you come and scream and yell and you usually get your way," Cortines said in an interview. "Well I'm a little different. I listen, but it has to be logical, it has to be reasonable, you have to bring me a plan that lives within the budgetary parameters."

At last week's school board meeting, and at previous sessions, supporters (dressed in pink, yellow, purple and white T-shirts proclaiming their causes) of special education, assistant principals, cafeteria workers and custodians, art programs and graduation advisors spoke about why their positions must be saved.

In early March, parent groups and the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles discovered that more than 400 assistant principals were slated to be cut and replaced with 200 special education specialists. MOMS UNITE, founded by two mothers from Castle Heights Elementary School in Cheviot Hills, began an e-mail campaign with more than 5,000 parents.

"We understand the state mandate, yet they need to make sense," said MOMS UNITE co-founder Ginger Bower, a Cheviot Hills stay-at-home mother.

"We're not naive, we understand that cuts need to be made," added fellow co-founder Victoria Rierdan Hurley, a Beverlywood mother who works in public relations. "But we will protest things that will impact the quality of education that the students are getting."

Meanwhile, the administrators group, who are opposed to any layoffs, suggested a reduction in the number of assistant principals -- rather than replacing them with specialists -- that would still save money. Cortines accepted that proposal; this was the only group that offered an alternative, he said.

MOMS UNITE is now turning its attention to try to prevent cuts that would increase class sizes. Hurley said the group is different from others because they have no special interest.

"Our interest is to protect the entire school system," she said.

Others who are trying to protect their jobs and special programs, however, consider their positions to be equally crucial to the functioning of the district.

At Tuesday's meeting, one group dressed in bright yellow T-shirts handed out fliers of equally bright hue that read: "Why LAUSD schools need Diploma Project Advisors." Another flier distributed by Service Employees International Union members stated that laying off more than 1,000 cafeteria workers, custodians and teacher aides would deal "another devastating blow to our children's education."

In late February, Cortines and board member Tamar Galatzen attended a meeting at West Valley Special Education Center in Van Nuys where teachers and parents had heard rumors about a possible closure for months. Two days later, Cortines was at C. Morley Sellery Special Education Center in Gardena where parents and teachers had heard similar talk of closure. Both schools could be closed because of low enrollment, a savings for the district of $1 million to $2 million for each campus, officials said.

"This is a school that the teachers and parents and staff are passionate about, but there are dozens of other schools and programs that have its supporters," Galatzen said. "And everyone is 'no, no, not my program, this is the best thing the district's doing,' and we're hearing it from every angle."

Donnalynn Anton, associate superintendent of special education, said the finger-pointing campaigns are common during budget crises. "Given the budget and the state of the state and the state of the nation . . . everyone's going to hurt in this place, it's a pretty disastrous time."

Some who are at risk are trying to save their jobs and programs by insisting that their elimination won't save the district much money, or could even cost more.

"From a practical standpoint we were told passion is great, teaching is great, environment of the school is great, but all the school district cares about is dollars and cents," said Steve Rosen, a West Valley parent who spoke at the February meeting attended by Cortines. "We have to be practical."

Busing the more than 130 students to other campuses would be costly, supporters said.

At Sellery, parents told Cortines that savings from closing the school wouldn't be significant in light of the huge deficit, said Principal Karol McQueary.

"They say we're sort of a drop in the bucket," McQueary said. "Especially because of the cost of moving our students, they [the parents] feel that cuts should be made elsewhere."



●●smf’s 2¢:

  1. The quickest way to attract my attention is to quote Lewis Carroll; the very Wonderlandian/Through the Looking Glass absurdity of LAUSD is its most endearing quality.
  2. "Because that's the way we do business in L.A., you come and scream and yell and you usually get your way," Cortines said in an interview. "Well I'm a little different. I listen, but it has to be logical, it has to be reasonable, you have to bring me a plan that lives within the budgetary parameters."  The Red Queen, talking backwards, couldn’t have said it better. This is bureaucratic public service at its most lazy. Cortines is saying that’s it’s not enough to prove him wrong – you must also solve his problem or he’s going to do it his way. He is paid the big bucks to solve problems. He has a big staff to solve problems.

When i was young
It seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees
Well they´d be singing so happily
Oh joyfully, oh playfully watching me
But then they sent me away
To teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible ,practical
And they showed me a world
Where i could be so dependable
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical

There are times when all the world´s asleep
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man
Won´t you please, please tell me what we´ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who i am

Now watch what you say
Or they´ll be calling you a radical
A liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Oh won´t you sign up your name
We´d like to feel you´re
Acceptable, respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable!

At night when all the world´s asleep
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man
Won´t you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who i am, who i am ,who i am.

-- "The Logical Song" by Supertramp

Saturday, March 28, 2009


By Amanda Baumfeld, Staff Writer | San Gabriel Valley Tribune

03/28/2009 07:05:25 AM PDT -- MONTEBELLO - A lawsuit filed against Burnside & Associates accuses Councilman Robert Urteaga of fraud and breach of contract for his work on a political campaign, officials said.

Benjamin Austin claims the political consulting firm misrepresented him in his race for Los Angeles Unified School Board by failing to qualify him for the March 2009 ballot, according to a complaint filed March 3 with Los Angeles County Superior Court.

"At the end of the day, what happened was they told me they collected 500 signatures and validated them," Austin said. "They managed to collect them in the wrong district; they managed to use the wrong computer program to validate them."

Urteaga does occasional contract work for Burnside & Associates and was assigned to work on Austin's signature gathering, according to court documents. Urteaga did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Montebello city councilman Robert Urteaga. (SGVN/Staff photo by Leo Jarzomb)

Sue Burnside, president of Burnside & Associates, said Austin's allegations are totally untrue.

"We can't comment because it is a current lawsuit," Burnside said Friday. "This is a bleeder suit. Austin cannot take responsibility for his campaign so he is suing everyone else around him."

Burnside & Associates are political consultants who have worked on campaigns such as Sen. John Kerry, Congresswoman Jane Harman and Congresswoman Diane Watson, according to its Web site. They are currently working on Gil Cedillo's race for the 32nd Congressional District seat.

According to the lawsuit filed March 3, Austin was the front runner for the LAUSD school board election with heavy endorsements from Los Angeles politicians including Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa.

In November, Austin hired Burnside & Associates to collect enough signatures to qualify for the school board ballot.

In order to qualify for the Los Angeles School Board ballot a candidate is required to collect 500 signatures of registered voters

Copy of Urteaga Complaint from the candidate's district.

A Nov. 26 e-mail sent to Austin from Urteaga said that 823 signatures had been collected and 508 of those were validated as being registered voters in the Fourth District - which is Austin's district, according to the complaint.

On Dec. 8 the L.A. County Registrar's office informed Austin he failed to qualify for the March ballot.

"It was jarring and sad," Austin said. "It was almost inexplicable."

Austin later found out that Urteaga farmed out the signature-gathering process to someone else, according to documents.

Several of the signatures were collected in a bordering district, which Austin believes increased the likelihood that he would not qualify for the ballot, according to the complaint.

The complaint also accuses Urteaga of collecting signatures for a competing candidate simultaneously while working on Austin's campaign.

The complaint goes on to say that Burnside & Associates should have disclosed Urteaga's felonious past to Austin.

In 1998, Urteaga pleaded no contest to grand theft of personal property totaling $30,000, according to court documents. He originally was accused of five counts of check forgery and one count of grand theft, but the District Attorney dropped the forgery counts in a July 1999 plea agreement.

This is not the first time Burnside & Associates has been accused of fraud. In October 2008, Joon Il Kim, 30, was sentenced 90 days in jail for filing a false affidavit while working on behalf of Burnside & Associates.

Meanwhile, Austin tried contacting Burnside immediately after hearing he did not qualify. Burnside refused to take his calls and the two have still not spoken, according to the complaint.

Austin is suing to cover legal and campaign expenses and for the damage it has done to his reputation, he said.

"I am not a litigious guy, never sued anyone before ...," Austin said. "They (Burnside & Associates) handled it in a pretty strange way. We reached out to them, the day it all happened and she (Burnside) wouldn't take my call."

The news that doesn’t fit from March 29

Saturday, March 28, 2009 7:21 PM
By Amanda Baumfeld, Staff Writer | San Gabriel Valley Tribune  03/28/2009 07:05:25 AM PDT -- MONTEBELLO - A lawsuit filed against Burnside & Associates accuses Councilman Robert Urteaga of fraud and breach of contract for his work on a political campaign, officials said.  Benjamin Austin claims the political consulting firm misrepresented him in his race for Los Angeles Unified School Board by….

CALIFORNIA’S “BIG FIVE”* ON FIXING THE STATE BUDGET: A partial transcript of remarks make by Gov. Schwarzenegger and four other California officials during a recent visit to The TimesSaturday, March 28, 2009 6:15 PM
Posted in LA Times.com March 27, 2009   Making their pitch for the six measures on the May 19 special election ballot, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and four state lawmakers visited The Times Tuesday. With the governor were Assembly Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, both Democrats; Assembly GOP Caucus leader Mike Villines of Clovis; and….

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:38 AM
BERNIE’S LESSON PLAN: The most compelling evidence for something's being wrong is often hidden in plain view.      For misrepresentation to work at a large scale, people’s desires and, even more so, their fears need to be played to.      If you want to forestall the day of reckoning, make sure you are in charge of both generating and then interpreting your own metrics.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 9:00 AM
from Leticia (Martha) Infante              NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFIED TEACHER/GIFTED AND TALENTED EDUCATION COORDINATOR     CALIFORNIA COUNCIL FOR SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHER OF THE YEAR 2009     LOS ANGELES ACADEMY MIDDLE SCHOOL               Dear Superintendent Cortines and LAUSD Board Members,  In the next week, you will be voting on important budget decisions that I am sure have taken their toll on

FORWARDING OTHER PEOPLE’S MAIL:  an open letter to the Superintendent and the Board of Education
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 5:31 PM
"It has been suggested that the state has some ability to intercept Stabilization Fund dollars,” the letter from Congress says.   “It does not.”  Subject: Reading other people's mail  Date: 3/24/2009 7:05:06 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time  From: smf  To:ramon.cortines@lausd.net, marguerite.lamotte@lausd.net, monica.garcia@lausd.net, tamar.galatzan@lausd.net, marlene.canter@lausd.net,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 12:21 AM
"It has been suggested that the state has some ability to intercept Stabilization Fund dollars," the letter from twenty-six California Members of Congress says. "It does not."     The latest on California politics and government  March 23, 2009  Don't divert school funds, congressional Dems warn   Congressional Democrats are telling state leaders to keep their hands off federal stimulus funds

Sunday, March 22, 2009 5:40 PM
Steve Lopez: Reading, writing, and diving to the floor when gunshots are heard are all part of the routine for second-graders.  Steve Lopez  | LA Times Columnist     March 22, 2009  - Gina Amodeo shouted "Pancake!" and her second-grade students knew exactly what to do. They immediately dropped to the floor and flattened out, minimizing the chance of getting shot.  It was only a drill, but

Sunday, March 22, 2009 5:36 PM
When is homework just busywork? Weighing stress against learning, some districts are cutting back on academic work outside the classroom.   By Seema Mehta | LA Times  March 22, 2009  - Rachel Bennett, 12, loves playing soccer, spending time with her grandparents and making jewelry with beads. But since she entered a magnet middle school in the fall -- and began receiving two to four hours of

CALIFORNIA’S “BIG FIVE”* ON FIXING THE STATE BUDGET: A partial transcript of remarks make by Gov. Schwarzenegger and four other California officials during a recent visit to The Times.

Posted in LA Times.com March 27, 2009

Making their pitch for the six measures on the May 19 special election ballot, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and four state lawmakers visited The Times Tuesday. With the governor were Assembly Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, both Democrats; Assembly GOP Caucus leader Mike Villines of Clovis; and immediate past Senate Republican caucus leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto. Cogdill's fellow Republican senators ousted him from his leadership post on Feb. 18 rather than back his support for the deal that created the state's current spending plan and shaped the special election.

(*smf: As the Senate Republican Leader [Dennis Hollingsworth R-36 which includes portions of San Diego and Riverside Counties] is neither represented nor on board – doesn’t that make this group the Big 4 plus 1?)

Arnold Schwarzenegger: This is without any doubt I think the first time in history that you see the "Big Five" together and all in sync -- I don't think that you will remember any time in the past.

Jim Newton: (laughs) Certainly not here.

Schwarzenegger: So obviously this is very important to all of us, which is that to make those various different initiatives pass, the six of them that will be on the ballot May 19. And I think that we have done an extraordinary job together working over a period of several months to negotiate this budget and these various different initiatives. But that's always half of the job because the other half is obviously making it pass by the people and it's no different than our infrastructure initiatives that we did in 2006, where it was a bipartisan kind of an effort, the Democrats and the Republicans went up and down the state and they joined together in fundraising activities and joined together also in campaigning for the initiatives. And because of that the people of California felt comfortable that both parties are working together and they won with overwhelming majority.

We hope this is the same case here. I think that budget reform is extremely important for the state of California because we didn't have it in place for so long -- for decades. Every governor has gone through a huge, huge crisis, if it is from Pat Brown to Ronald Reagan to [George] Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and now myself where you always run out of money because the economy is going down, because we don't have a rainy day fund, because we always spend too much money when the revenues go up. So I think here we have a chance to fix this once and for all and have a rainy day fund for the first time in 60 years. I think that it's very important that these initiatives pass and we're basically here to just talk to you about it, answer your questions and get you to endorse the initiatives, because endorsements from major papers, especially the LA Times, is extremely important in supporting it to make it pass.

With that, I'll open it up, if my collegues want to say something about any of that, feel free.

Karen Bass: Well, I would just add in that as the governor laid out we have this critical election on May 19, and in L.A. we're actually having an election right now, so it'll be interesting.

Newton: (laughs) What's a week without an election, right?

Bass: Yeah, right, exactly.

I am concerned about turnout and I think it's very important that we do whatever we can to increase turnout. Yesterday, in Sacramento I hosted 55 African American ministers that were there to hear about the economic stimulus and we talked about the May 19 elections so that they will spread the word in their congregations.

A couple of the initiatives that would be a little counter-intuitive to a lot of people are the lottery, the money from Proposition 10 and Proposition 63, and so I think it's most important that we also educate folks about that -- that we need to secure ties to the lottery, we need to take the resources from Prop. 10 and Prop. 63. The [state Legislative Analyst's Office] came out last week and talked about the potential $8 billion deficit, and so as I've been talking to people I've been encouraging them to do the math. If there is a projected 8 billion, plus the initiatives go down, we're talking about a devastating $14 to $15 billion deficit that we would have to close at the end of May.

Darrell Steinberg: I appreciate the opportunity to meet with the full Los Angeles Times editorial board and I am all-in when it comes to these initiatives, despite the fact that there are a lot of elements of the agreement that I frankly don't like, and I think we can all say the same thing.

Bass: Right.

Steinberg: But this was a negotiation about shared sacrifice. I was the author of Propostition 63, the proud author, and put my heart and soul into the passage of that initiative. And the initiative is doing great things for a lot of people living with mental illness in California. And yet when it came time to make the hard decisions about how to resolve a $41 billion deficit, the largest in state history, what I think is important to note is that despite the stereotype, and frankly a lot of truth, about the Legislature and state government being dysfunctional that the five of us were able to craft an agreement where everybody gave something, where everybody put the interest of the state ahead of their own ideology or their own programs and it was a very very difficult thing to do. But it was necessary and these elections are crucial for a couple of different perspectives, and I'll be brief but I want to go through this.

Not only do we need the money in the short term -- the lottery securitization, the Prop. 10 the Prop. 63 dollars -- but Prop. 1A, the passage of Prop. 1A, equates to about $20-plus billion of additional revenue for the state and for the investments that I know you care about and that we care about. Prop. 1A has to pass. If it doesn't pass we not only lose the $9.3 billion respiration to public education but we lose two years of additional revenue. And when you add all that up it's over $20 billion.

And finally, I would say that as a Democrat who believes that government plays an important role in improving the lives of people on their merits, I think Prop. 1A is a good idea because the state's revenue stream is volatile and we have to change it, but until we change it I would much rather, for the things that we care about, I would much rather have 10, $12 billion in a reserve fund, in a rainy-day fund, so when the inevitable bad times occur we don't have to consider cutting foster care or MediCal or mental health, or any of the other safety-net programs that really matter to the most vulnerable. And so on the merits I favor Prop. 1A as well.

Newton: We'll hear from our Republican colleagues.

Dave Cogdill: Well just let me certainly echo the thanks that has been expressed by the governor and our Democrat friends to have the opportunity today to sit here today and discuss this issue.

Obviously these are extraordinary times, and I think that everybody recognizes that certainly this negotiation that led up to the budget agreement and the propositions that have been put on the ballot in many ways has been historic. The goals, obviously, from the very beginning, well certainly going back into October and November after the economy turned down as bad as it did and continues to falter today, as we all know, the governor's very strong in coming out and talking about the four-legged stool that he wanted to construct as it related to a compromise on the budget deal, that only dealt with the short term but certainly, hopefully fixes this problem long-term so that our children and our grandchildren aren't faced with these same awful decision whenever our economy takes a downturn.

And that was certainly our goal when we went back to negotiate after the attempt was made to put out a budget with a simple-majority approval on taxes and fees that ultimately didn't happen. And when Mike [Villines] and I came back to the table our goal again was to try and find this comprehensive solution that reflected and met all of the goals that the governor set out, and I think we were able to do that. As Senator Steinberg points out there's a lot in this budget certainly not to like and it isn't the budget that any of us, I think individually, if you'd have asked us to sit down and craft our idea of the perfect budget, it doesn't represent that.

But it does represent, again, what I think is a historic compromise that used a lot of different components and potential solutions to ultimately solve both the short-term and the long-term problem. And again, that's why the initiatives are so important as Darrell pointed out – they deal with the short term issues of Prop. 10 and 63 and the lottery, the monies that that brings to this year's budget and then also provides the discipline that has been lacking as it relates to windfalls that come to the state periodically when our economy is doing well and make sure that we put that money back so that when we do go through another downturn we don't have to face the awful specter of either huge cuts in spending or tax increases or some combination of those things that nobody likes.

And I think the most important thing when you look at the 1A piece of this, and what really convinced me that it was the way to go, is if you look at the modeling and realize that if we'd had it in place over the last 10 years, having gone through both the dot-com boom and the housing boom, we'd have put enough money aside that when this economy turned down the way it did, we'd have had a much smaller problem to deal with, and one that we could have done, I think, through just some economies and spending rather than have to face the awful reality of the need to raise revenues in a struggling economy.

So, again, I don't think we could over-emphasize how important those propositions are in both the short term and the long term and hopefully get people to realize when they're criticized for not going far enough from someone on the right that, again, it's a compromise that can pass, and I think will have the support of the voters and who it needs to at the polls in order to be successful and more importantly over time will accomplish what we want to accomplish.

Mike Villines: I'm Mike Villines and I think everyone has said it really well. I would just say that, first of all, I think all the comments are important and I agree with most all of them. The key to me is that I think that California in many ways has become dysfunctional and this is an attempt to I think to really bring some sanity back to budgeting and some fiscal discipline to the state without casting blame. I just believe that these reforms, all of them, in terms of the short term -- as Dave and Darrell and Karen and the governor have said, are important. And also the long-term, I mean the idea that we can put some restraint on spending but also some reliability for programs so that both sides can, I think, find a benefit is critical I think to our long-term success.

I also think that the governor has set up a very strong process and argument for reform in this state, first with redistricting last year, that I think is important to changing in the Legislature. Now we have the chance at a spending cap that I think the Republicans have been fighting for for a long time that I think is a fair one for both sides. And again I always tell my friends on the other side of the aisle, I think

reliability, maybe not as much, but the idea that basing reliability in funding is much better to plan for now than what we're going through now or what we did five years ago and, if we don't have this, will happen again in three years or four years.

So to me it's a long-term perspective versus a short-term perspective. And I think for the state, it's good to look long- term and that these initiatives all fit into a better, longer-term view of the state, a more optimistic view. So I think California's going to look at it and say that they agree. We've all had to make some significant trade-offs and concessions but the situation demanded it and nobody could go to their corner and I think everybody had to give, and I give the governor and my colleagues a lot of credit for all of us trying to come together….

Newton: I realize it's a compromise that brings you all together here today, but if you were to separate these out and consider them individually, are there measures within this package that you would personally oppose if they weren't part of the package?

Schwarzenegger: I cannot think of one, no. Because, I mean, I've been fighting for five years now for budget reform, to put a rainy-day fund aside and to put a certain cap on spending. I wasn't successful. I tried through the Legislature when I first came into office; I tried in 2005 to go directly to the people, but apparently it wasn't inclusive enough so that failed -- the idea was good but it failed. And so here was our chance again….

I think that we need the lottery, I think that we need the money from 63 and from 10. Under the circumstances, if we didn't have a crisis of course I wouldn't have even touched that money. I would go after the lottery money because I think it's ludicrous to have a lottery system in place that the people have voted for and only have the technology go up to 1984, so I think we can do much better than that. We don't want to be outdone by Teddy's Massachusetts. I mean, you know he rubs it in every time I see him, so it doesn't bode well, but I think we can do better with that.

I think that to pay back education is an absolute must because education has been getting such a beating in this budget. The interesting thing about Prop. 98 is that Prop. 98 was written in such a way that there was a hole. They always say that it wasn't written that well, that they want us to rethink it, but that's a whole other subject. But they would not get this money back from those cuts, and so what we did was we looked at it and said, "Wait a minute, is that we stand for? Do we really feel that from now on education should have this drop of $5-some billion and have the base lowered by that much?" No, education needs the money, of course it needs to be run more efficiently in order, which is another subject, but I mean in any case we need to go back again where we were with education spending and so that money, Proposition 1B, guarantees that.

So I think all of those things are very important, and the last one was part of the overall agreement, Proposition 1F. So … all of those are really good initiatives, and like I said the important thing for people to understand is they all go hand in hand. It's not one of those things where you can go to the grocery store and pick and choose. You've got to understand: In order to bring our economy back we have to bring our budget back to have enough money to pay for the programs I think they all have to be voted on "yes," and they all have to pass.

Nick Goldberg, L.A. Times: Explain what the process will be. What happens if one of these goes down? The whole deal collapses? That piece of the deal collapses?

Schwarzenegger: Not, but I mean, that's not the way you move forward. You don't move forward planning on losing -- there's no one that ever won by accident. You always win because you plan on winning and every move that you make is to win. And so we are going to go out and we believe that we can win those, the poll numbers show that we can win those, but the key thing for people is that they get the education of what they're about. We also know, as Karen said, that it is already a huge challenge when there is such a low turnout, we don't know who is going to turn up so we want to make sure that no stone is unturned and we want to go and raise enough money for the campaign so we can be on T.V. and do the mailers and all those kind of things, and go out and get the different groups of endorsements….

Villines: We'll just have to cross the bridge when we get there in terms of what doesn't work, but I think the governor is right, we're working hard to educate people. I've been pleased at travelling up and down, when you explain to people everything they understand it, in all kinds of different circles so our hope is that they all will pass because they are part of a package.

Jon Healey, L.A. Times: But Mr. Villines, are they listening to you or are they listening to Jon and Ken?

Villines: Well the people I talk to are listening to me. I mean, I've talked at five town halls; I travel up and down the state talking to everybody. I mean there's a real concern, I mean there's a trade off: Is it a short-term or long-term view? I think it's a long-term view, and I think that people are looking at it an realizing that we are at a historical economic downturn, crisis, and the ticket out of it's not easy and that all these initiatives have a piece of the puzzle that fits together, and I think they understand that.

I mean, it's not easy, people are frustrated with government -- so are we, and we're in the government. So we all go home to our districts and hear what they're saying and how frustrated they are with the economy, but I think they're listening and I think they get it. Our job is to make sure that we're appealing to a better, more positive vision where California could be with these reforms, because it really could be as opposed to being in the same spot in 18 months. And why would anybody want to do that?

Schwarzenegger: The question is who are they more upset about? Is it our budget reform or is it the L.A. Times by not saying that there's a billion people listening to them rather than just 500 or 600,000?


So we don't know yet who they're more upset about.

Sue Horton, L.A. Times: Is there a bait-and-switch aspect though in asking voters to support a new tax for funding mental illness programs and then -- how long are Californians going to put up with, they vote for a tax for a very specific thing and then it's redirected?

Steinberg: Maybe I should take that one. First of all it's $450 million over two years that is part of a prudent reserve in the Prop. 63 fund. The money itself is going to be used for Children's mental health services within the core budget, and I think your question is a fair question. Again, for me you asked the question earlier if any measure were standing on its own that you wouldn't like or wouldn't vote for. I don't like this, but I'm for it because I couldn't be a credible negotiator without being willing to put the thing I cared most about on the table. And I think that the people of California understand that this is a crisis and that we have to do all that is reasonable to get through the crisis. And so some voters may wonder that, but Prop. 63 remains intact, the money comes out of reserve, and it's necessary to avoid cuts to core children's mental health programs. If I can stand up and say it's OK, I think other advocates who are concerned about mental health can do the same.

Villines: Can I just add that it was important to Dave and myself and others to say that in this crisis, and again the context is a crisis of $42 billion for two years, which by the way we did a two-year budget which I think would be a great reform in California but that we did it, we actually did a two-year budget. We couldn't go to tax payers and say we're going to raise revenue if we didn't exhaust every opportunity we could in this time to find ways to minimize cuts on their side and for us, taxpayer involvement, meaning less taxes.

So we had done audits of Prop. 10 and 63 and originally we had talked about much larger sums of money in those programs, but you know a little wisdom and reflection and work we realized OK, there's reserves some people have invested for the future, so we didn't take everything. We took what we thought would make sense and help the process but also let taxpayers know that you're already paying taxes there and there're some reserver dollars we're going to move into this crisis to sort of mitigate having to do more. And I think they'll understand that, from both perspectives, from a Republican and a Democrat perspective, it is minimizing cuts at the same time it's minimizing more revenue and I think that that's one thing I hope people get that it's part of the overall package and its part of the crisis that we're doing everything we can to bring everything in before we look at the final result of what we had to do.

Healey: Isn't the existence of things like Prop. 63 part of the problem here? You've got budgeting done in silos, and when you have these great dips in revenue and you have opportunities to take broad structural looks at how we raise money in the state and how we pay for things, you can't because your hands are tied right and left.

Bass: Let me just respond to that, because it think there's a lot of things that we need to do long-term, but the fact of the matter is the house is on fire and we needed to put the fire out. But at the same time, we have done things, the five of us have, as in establishing the commission on the 21st century economy that looks at the overall revenue picture of California. You know our tax system is based on an economy that doesn't even exist anymore; it was created at the beginning of the last century. And so while we're trying to address the immediate crisis at hand, the fire we have in front of us, we are attempting to make longer term changes. And I think there's a variety of things.

Now, we have some differences on this one issue, which is the two-thirds and we would see it differently, but I think that's one of the structural things that needs to change. California needs to be like 47 other states instead of like Arkansas and Rhode Island, and so we are looking at that as well and polling about that, and might put something on the ballot next year. And you know, if you look at our overall budget, we have very little control, and that's something that needs to be looked at as well. That's not something we're looking at right now, but I think it's about 10% of the budget that we can actually deal with, and the rest of it is prescribed primarily by voters.

Steinberg: You can consider this, in a way, a down-payment on reform. This isn't the end of the reform discussion, but it's a very strong beginning and a demonstration that, again, a governor and leaders who have very different views on the role of government can put California first and can come together. But it is just the beginning; you have the tax commission, you have the potential for initiative reform, which I think is very important subject matter. Why can't the Legislature, why shouldn't the Legislature be able to vet initiatives and try to solve the problem before the measure actually goes on the ballot? There's realignment between state-local government and school districts which is a very complicated, but a very, very important issue because our government is so misaligned. So this isn't the end, it's the beginning, but it's a very important beginning.

Newton: Is it safe to say that this is as far as bipartisanship gets you? That as far as reform proceeds beyond these measures, assume all six pass, that you all are likely to go in different directions on what the next steps of reform are?

Schwarzenegger: Let me just comment on that quickly, because I've been there now for five years, maybe not as long as some of the people here but I've noticed one thing: It's all about the dynamics and about the rhythm. I think that now, because new leaders came in to their positions, and we see, everyone here is kind of new in their positions … but I've never seen in all five years four people that were more willing to compromise. See, the thing is if you get stuck in your ideological corners you can't get anything done, and this is why we did the redistricting, because people are just, because the way the district lines were drawn, it makes people be so far apart that when they get to Sacramento they just can't meet on things. Because if they would meet they would go back to their districts and get beaten up all the time or they lose the next election, so therefore they can't really come to the center. So this is why I think that what you have seen was unbelievable courage because everyone has risked their political lives to do that and to meet in the center and get the budget done. So that is, of course, the ultimate of post-partisanship or bipartisanship, whatever you may call it.

I think because of that there is great hope that I have and I think it will happen that we will get all kinds of things now done by because spending so many months together negotiating of course you agree and also a certain trust. There's always usually the distrust about the other party and what they thinking, what they're plotting. But when you spend that much time together, you get to appreciate the other side….

Robert Greene, L.A. Times: Over time, we've been relatively comfortable with ballot measures after they've been vetted in the legislative process, there have been open hearings, the various constituent groups had a chance to express their views, the legislation has been change. And we've been pretty uncomfortable, with good reason, with legislation that ends up on the ballot when there hasn't been that kind of vetting, both statewide and locally. And this one was part of a deal that didn't have any of that kind of input. Why should we not feel that kind of discomfort with this particular package when there's so many moving pieces, it's so complex? If it was possible to make Prop. 98 any more complex, you've succeeded with 1B. Why should we not shy away from it because of those reasons?

Villines: I actually think that, well first, it's not really complex. It may appear that way, but it's really not; it's a lot of common sense. Second, a lot of these have had hearings and have been going on for a long time. In terms of a spending cap, we've had versions of a spending cap since 1990. When it went away, in the Legislature we've talked intensely about it, all of us here, over the last two years. We've had bills and legislation, and indeed we've had a spending cap moved from committee to the Assembly floor last year, which has never been done. Those are the pieces of a spending cap, and so I think that there has been a lot of daylight on that.

The lottery, we've discussed not for a year and a half…. It makes perfect sense to get government out of something it shouldn't do. It could actually make more money for the state. It's a great way to see a public-private partnership, but there's been a lot of daylight on that….

The three that might appear a little confusing if you're trying to read the language -- which I understand, but it's really very common sense – it's that in 63 and 10, we're simply trying to mitigate a taxpayer protection and moving some money that's in reserve to try and take care of the crisis, and most people understand that. We're not trying to take away from mental health or children's programs, and in fact we can get to a healthier environment, and if we have a spending cap there will be that reliability.

And then on 1B, that's simply an amount of money that is in dispute that owe or don't owe or not sure when it's going to happen. And we're just saying, as the governor pointed out very well, in an environment where education has taken a very disproportionate hit, we should do something to try to work with them so that they're not having to take such a big hit. And I think that Californians will say yeah, we don't want to see the kids and the teachers have to take that hit.

So I think if we present it the right way people will get it, because the intent is that way. It wasn't a ploy to sit down and make it confusing; it really was these are the pieces needed to help us for long-term structural change and short-term advantage, and none of them make sense. And none of them frankly are really partisan; they are actually just common sense. That's the spirit it was done in; I hope that's the spirit people receive it in and you also. I haven't seen everything in print, but I'm sure it will look confusing, but it's really not.

Steinberg: I agree with Mike. Much of -- all of it has been publicly vetted at one stage or another during the process. But the other thing, just to be completely frank about it, this was an extraordinary crisis, and it was coupled with an extraordinary process. In the best of all worlds, you would want there to be a month of analyzing all these issues that we negotiated, but frankly, it would have fallen apart because the interests – the special interests – would have picked it apart very, very quickly. And we were days away, if you remember, we settled the budget at seven o'clock in the morning on Thursday, Feb. 20 … and by noon that day, or sometime that day, the governor's department of transportation was going to issue "stop work" orders on almost 300 major infrastructure projects resulting in the unemployment of tens of thousands of people and the loss of economic productivity of billions of dollars. And when you weigh what was at stake versus the only way to get this done, it was extraordinary; maybe not something we want to repeat necessarily, but it was the only way to get it done.

Bass: Let me just add too, in terms of the transportation projects, which I'm assuming that you are aware of: Those projects were the ones that were allowed to go forward after December because they were considered to be vital to public safety. A number of projects had already been stopped. And so the idea that we were hours away from stopping those projects definitely led to the urgency of us getting it done….

Greene: There was also the implication of – if perhaps not a promise – that despite anything in this package that people are uncomfortable with, at least it would take care of the problem from a tax perspective, that yes, you're raising taxes, it had to be done, but this is it. And then we hear from the LAO as you noted that we've got a much bigger problem. And none of you have said it, but there's the possibility that there might have to be additional taxes to address that problem down the road. What about that? Is this the final take-care-of-the-problem solution, or is this just a stop-gap and we're going to be facing this again after May 19?

Cogdill: You've got to look over time. If this had been in place over the last decade, we would have been in a much different place when the crisis hit. And 10 years out, I think you can say the same thing. Again, presuming we're going to go through some up times in our economy and with the reforms in place, the discipline will be there to fill the rainy day fund. Now that's not going to happen in the next two or three, four years maybe because no one's expecting the economy to roar back or to have another opportunity at an April surprise, if you will. But it will happen eventually, and the reforms will put that discipline in place so that ultimately, that rainy day fund will grow out and we will have the money that we need to deal with it. And it should go a long way to alleviating the problem.

It's definitely a better situation than we have today, and I think that's another very important point that gets missed in this debate, is that politics is the art of the possible. And we could all argue and say, "If it was my cap, the one I would design, the one I would hope the people would vote for, this is the way it would be." I know the reality of that is the people of this state would not support it; the special interests would not support it. We'd have huge amounts of money spent against it, and the governor's already been through that attempt back in 2005, and we saw firsthand what happens when you have that kind of organized, well-funded opposition.

This is an opportunity to actually make a real improvement long-term and provide some real structural change in our budgeting and put the kind of discipline in place that we need to make it better. Does it make it perfect? No, but it makes it better, and there's again a real opportunity to get it done this time. We haven't had that in the past.

Steinberg: Rob, we can manage the 8 billion. I mean, the problem is, if it gets much worse as a result of the result of losing the election. Remember, the budget we passed does have a reserve of $2 billion; there is federal economic stimulus money that won't be counted toward so-called trigger, the education money that potentially could be used to mitigate against what we may have to do around the $8 billion (that's estimated to be around three and a half billion). So you can begin doing the numbers here, and you down to two, two and a half. And we can manage that, right?

But what we don't want is to see that go from that manageable number to something much larger, where all bets are off because you have to go back in and look at all the different options to try to resolve it. But the idea of crisis management is, we avoided an economic catastrophe, we're putting in place the protections to help ensure that it doesn't happen again. We're also focusing on trying to get through this crisis so that we can begin focusing on water, on renewable energy, on healthcare, on education….

Villines: We did not do a good job of communicating. I mean, it was not unanticipated, the LAO report. It comes out every year at that time. When we solved the budget this time, the numbers were still eroding, and they still are. So we knew the LAO was going to come out with a report something like that. We have the pre-negotiated cuts; we have the pre-negotiated 2 billion reserve....

Folks didn't realize that we had planned for that and that it is a manageable number, and it is part of a larger context. But if we don't pass these reforms -- and I think there's a benefit to California both short-term and long-term, which is the most important – then we could be in a very, very difficult position. But this is manageable, and we can do it, even in the worst economy we've had since the Depression. And I think that's the silver lining here that we had planned for it, we just didn't do a good job of letting people know about it I think.

Bass: I think we're fortunate here too to have a governor who is developing a close tie with the president and has been very supportive of the economic stimulus plan and encouraging the infrastructure dollars. And who knows, there might another economic stimulus plan. But I think all of that is very helpful because as Mike Villines said, we absolutely anticipated there was going to be another downturn.

Villines: Or a continuing one.

Bass: Right….

Michael Rothfeld, L.A. Times: Isn't there a conflict between saying we need to control spending and have these systems in place that are going to control spending, but then at the same time -- because I think most or all of you have supported initiatives that have forced yourselves to spend the money – so isn't there a conflict there? And also, to say as leaders, we need to be able to work things out, yet to say at the same time, we support taking away the prerogatives from ourselves as leaders to manage the state's money in the way that we need to in any given point in time?

Schwarzenegger: Well, first let me just answer that I think there's a difference. We can manage the money; we can make … decisions. The only thing is the overriding decision that says don't spend more than we have. And there's also the overriding decision is that we look at the last 10 years of revenue increases, and the average annual revenue increase is 5%, approximately. It varies; sometimes 4.7, sometimes 5.3, but sometimes 5%. So common sense tells you if we spend more than 5% a year increase in spending, then we are going out of whack and somewhere we have to make more cuts.

So therefore what we are saying in our budget reform is that we should not spend more. If there is 16% coming in, if revenues rise 16% -- which will happen again in a few years from now when the economy comes back, as much as it happened during our administration, a 13% rise, or under Davis, a 23% rise. So those things happen. But then after 5%, the rest goes into a rainy day fund so that we have money stored away for the bad years, when the economy goes down.

So I think that's basically what we're saying here, is that I think it is very important that we finally looked at the history of California in the last 60 years and the kind of mess it created. We have basically put people on a roller coaster ride -- education, law enforcement, prisons, healthcare, all of those different programs -- and everyone is kind of like frantic…. So now [for] the first time, we let people know, you will have a steady increase in your programs, just the way the revenues increase. But what we are trying to do in the meantime is fixing this problem, this jaggedy up-and-down, these peaks and valleys, and create more rolling kind of hills -- called the Alps.


Rothfeld: But my question is, for instance you have supported Jessica's Law, the after-school programs that have essentially at the same time made it harder for that gradual spending to go into effect.

Schwarzenegger: Not really. I mean, the way Proposition 49 was written, I think it was written brilliantly because -- I'll tell you why. Because we did not say in the initiative that if it wins, that next year it starts kicking in. It was written in a way where we said, OK, when they did the revenues -- at that point the revenues were around $70 billion -- when it hits $80 billion, then it will kick in. So it took four years. It passed in 2002, and it finally kicked in in 2006. It took four years, so we didn't crowd out any other programs right away to go in and say, "We are more important than you." We waited until the revenues increased to a certain point. So that's the way to do it -- you've got to be sensible how you go about doing those kind of things.

And there's certain times, programs that have passed through the initiative process that have become more expensive than originally thought, like putting bracelets on and following people and all those kind of things, that became instead of a $300 million program, potentially a billion-dollar program…. So that's why the last one didn't pass, by [state Sen.] George Runner, because they knew this could be another billion dollars. Where's the money?

Bass: Or you have Proposition 63 that identified a new funding source.

Steinberg: Well, that's what I was going to say, is that one potential reform going forward to the initiative process is to say that an initiative which requires the expenditure of state funds, or local funds for that matter, must have a dedicated revenue source. Because that's one way to assure that you match the resources with what the people are articulating as a priority.

The thing about the initiative process, the people love it. I mean, every public opinion shows the people like the initiative process. I think it's our job to look at it and see how we can improve it. And that would be on significant improvement because -- I do think the Runner initiative is a very good example, his latest one, where people said, "What is this going to cost?" It's a big problem with corrections and our overcrowding and all of that. We've done all this penalty enhancement, right or wrong, but there hasn't been a commensurate discussion [of] how we're going to pay for all of this....

Schwarzenegger: Like Darrell said, I think that we should look at the initiative process and update it. The spirit of the initiative process is great, but I think that now since it has been quite some time, I think that one has to look at it again.

Goldberg: Both of your Democratic colleagues here have talked about the two-thirds requirement. I was curious whether you think that the two-thirds rule has contributed to the difficult and somewhat chaotic budget process and what your position is on changing that.

Schwarzenegger: Well, I think that you can say that it has contributed, but you also can say that actually what really has contributed is the redistricting, that the colleagues are so far apart that they can't come together, that they way the district lines are drawn, if you're in the Republican Party and you just go in there and talk about a tax increase, you cannot get voted in again. So I think that's a problem, that if you want to do what is right for the state, then you can lose the election. So what kind of system is that? I think we should reward compromise. We should reward doing what is best for the state rather than what is best for your party. And I think that is where the problem lies.

As you can see in the past, Deukmejian raised taxes, and Pete Wilson raised taxes, now I raise taxes, and I'm not running for anything. So I'm more comfortable with it because I'm not running for anything, because I know that's the right thing even though I promised the people of California I'm not going to raise taxes. At the same time I said I'm not going to sign a pledge because what if there is an emergency, thinking at that time a pandemic or huge fires or an earthquake or something like that? It became a fiscal emergency; it's the same thing. If you all of a sudden have to spend $10 billion on freeways and rebuilding buildings, or if you all of a sudden lose $42 billion, I mean, there is no difference. And so it's a fiscal emergency, and that's why I never signed this pledge. The overriding thing there is what is best for the state of California.

So there are some people I know that are saying it's the two-thirds vote. I happen to think that we have to go and create a political system where people can come closer together and where they are rewarded for working together rather than getting stuck over here in their ideological corners….

And just one more thing. I just want you let you know that Dave Cogdill, I mean, think about the courage, I mean, to lose his leadership position. And he knew that this could happen in the direction that he was going, and he did what was right for the state. He saw the numbers in front of him and he saw there was no way to go and solve this problem any other way, otherwise you would have to wipe out all schools. If you wipe out all schools in California, kindergarten through 12th grade, erase them, then that's when you save $42 billion, just to give you an idea. Or if you just wipe out all healthcare, higher education and let out 170,000 prisoners and close down the state prisons and have them run around your neighborhoods, that will save you if you're lucky the $42 billion. Just to see the numbers and how ludicrous it is to even think about that, that you could do something like that, so he made the right decision. It cost him his leadership, so we all look at him as heroic because he has done that.

Bass: And as a Democrat, we want to make sure he gets reelected…. I think it's really important that we change the history, because the history as I understand it has been that Republicans that voted for taxes in the past have not been reelected. And I think this time we have to change that. We have to make sure Anthony Adams gets reelected, we have to make sure Dave Cogdill gets reelected, and I'm a Democrat saying that….

Rothfeld: Governor, you've said you're not running for anything. Does that mean no Senate run next year against Barbara Boxer?

Schwarzenegger: I'm not running. When I say I'm not running for anything, that's exactly what I mean.

Rothfeld: So you've ruled that out.

Schwarzenegger: Until we change the Constitution.


Bass: So he can run for president. (laughs)