By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
02/12/2010 07:30:35 PM PST | Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines on Friday proposed shortening the current school year by six days to help the district save $90 million during its financial crisis.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines >>
The district estimates it is now facing a $640 million shortfall for 2010-11, an amount that was increased by $170 million over earlier projections after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed new budget cuts for education.
"I am reluctantly proposing that we pursue a reduction of the school instructional year by five days for 2009-10, plus one pupil-free workday, creating the opportunity for furlough days for all personnel in the District," Cortines said in a written statement.
Shortening the current school year, Cortines said, would help the district's efforts to balance next year's budget and reduce the number of layoffs needed.
According to LAUSD officials, the Legislature's 2009-10 budget bill allowed school districts to shorten their school years by up to five days a year through 2012-13. The sixth day proposed by Cortines apparently would involve teachers working on professional development while students stayed home.
Such proposals, however, have to be negotiated with employee unions.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said five furlough days is a better option than how the district currently handles furlough time: since it isn't currently possible to shut down a school, teachers still report to work but give up banked vacation time. If the district tried to expand that policy, he said, it could trigger a walkout.
"It's still a pay cut, but if my teachers are not at school and they're taking true furlough days, then that's something my members would be willing to consider," Duffy said.
District officials acknowledged the shortened year would make education more difficult and said they would work on ways to help parents and teachers make sure kids get extra education at home during the five days off.
"If I could I would increase the school day and increase the school year," said Judy Elliott, LAUSD's chief academic officer. "There are too many kids that are struggling. ... Any reduction is bad for kids. But at this point we're over the cliff."
She said it seems most likely the five days would be lopped off the end of the school year, where they would have the least impact, but that has not yet been decided.
Cortines is also expected to address other potential budget fixes when he delivers his first "State of the District" address next week.
Speaking to parents, elected officials and community leaders, Cortines will discuss LAUSD's financial crisis while also boasting of gains in test scores and graduation rates by local students, according to district officials.
He is also expected to talk about setting a goal of having every child perform to the standards of his or her grade level.
In addition, he wants to make education feel more personal in the nation's second-largest school district.
"I want us to focus on creating an organization where we know every child and adult by name and face," Cortines says in the PowerPoint presentation that will accompany his speech.
"We need to personalize the learning experience for everyone in this great district, especially during these difficult times. We can never forget students are our number one priority."
The speech will be delivered Tuesday morning at Belmont High School.
District staff members are particularly eager to hear if Cortines talks about the possibility of seeking a parcel tax on the June ballot to help chip away at the deficit.
Cortines has already urged employee unions to agree to furloughs and pay cuts to stave off massive layoffs this year.
"All we hear is bad news," said Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.
"We are being asked to do more with less, to take pay cuts, to approve furloughs, to evaluate more teachers and nothing is being offered in exchange for our concessions."
LAUSD school board member Nury Martinez, who represents the Northeast San Fernando Valley, said she expects - and hopes - that Cortines will stress to district workers that their help is needed with the budget.
"It's a very difficult time for everyone and we need everyone's help," Martinez said. "The district has no money and we are going to have to make difficult decisions that will hurt kids unless we get some help."