Friday, July 01, 2011

LAUSD's LAST MINUTE/LAME DUCK BUDGET: Despite governor’s urging that school districts maintain current staffing and programs District lays off 3000 in last minute cuts


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA daily News |

Cassi Clark teaches eighth-grade English at Pacoima Middle School in Pacoima. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)

06/30/2011 05:15:49 PM PDT - After months of debating and lamenting the fiscal crisis, Los Angeles Unified officials Thursday finalized the budget for the 2011-12 school year, using employee concessions and about 3,000 layoffs to help close a $408 million deficit.

The state budget signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, however, could prompt the district to review its books and potentially hire back more employees. The state budget contains more revenue for education than expected, meaning the district could add $180 million more to its spending plan.

The LAUSD budget calls for about $7 billion in spending, compared with $7.1 billion last year.

The school board voted 6 to 1, with Marguerite LaMotte dissenting, to approve the budget that lays off some 1,900 teachers, nurses and counselors. The cuts were far less severe than the "worst-case scenario" district officials had presented in February.

That proposal would have laid off more than 5,000 educators, and 2,000 cafeteria workers, office clerks, bus drivers and other support staff. Class sizes would have increased in grades K-8.

After most employee unions agreed to take four furlough days and the state budget appeared to take a turn for the better, district officials still characterized the budget as a "survival" plan.

"No one on this board thinks this budget is a good idea," said board president Monica Garcia. "This budget is about surviving a very dark period."

The state budget for the fiscal year that begins today includes several provisions that could change LAUSD's current fiscal plan.

One asks districts to assume they'll be funded next year as they were this year, based on the Legislature's expectation that state revenues will increase by $4 billion.

Since LAUSD officials included a cut of some $330 per student based on an expected decline in state funding, this provision could mean up to an additional $180 million for the district - nearly half of this year's deficit.

However, LAUSD's Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said the plan could put districts in a very uncomfortable position, asking them to rely on a rosy financial outlook that hasn't materialized.

Another provision asks district to ignore the "trigger cut" of some $2 billion to education that would come if revenues don't appear. A third prevents school districts from laying off any more staff next year, according to an Assembly analysis of the bill.

"This goes against everything I've ever known about a budget," Reilly said.

Union leaders, however, said the district should be happy with the news from Sacramento.

"We're very pleased that a budget was signed on time by Gov. Brown, only the second time it's happened in 10 years. That alone is a victory," said Judy Perez, president of Associated Administrators Los Angeles.

Perez urged LAUSD financial officials to realize that the Legislature's assumptions are based on data and tax revenues already collected and asked district officials to instead turn their eye to the issue of declining enrollment.

Since 2008, LAUSD has laid off more than 4,600 teachers, principals, counselors, and other school support staff and 3,000 office clerks, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other school personnel, according to district documents.

While state budget cuts have prompted many of those cuts, declining enrollment continues to threaten LAUSD programs and personnel. This year LAUSD's enrollment dropped to some 672,000 students - down 80,000 from its peak enrollment of 747,000 in 2002 - and projections point to a deeper decline for next year.

More than half of the students that have left the district have gone to charter campuses, which are publicly funded but run free from most state and district mandates.

School board member Steve Zimmer asked Superintendent John Deasy to draft a long-term plan for addressing the exodus of students.

"I am not talking about capping charter schools ... I am talking about expanding the kinds of opportunities that will attract families to stay at LAUSD," Zimmer said.

Among those attractive options, Zimmer talked about magnet schools, dual-language schools and span schools serving kids from K-8 - all models that have proven successful in pockets of LAUSD.


Members bridge a $408-million shortfall with pay cuts and the layoffs of about 3,000 people, including some teachers. Officials say they could face a $629-million shortfall next year.

By Jason Song and Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times |

July 1, 2011 | The Los Angeles Board of Education approved its final budget Thursday, bridging a multimillion-dollar deficit in the state's largest school district with pay cuts and the layoffs of about 3,000 people, including some teachers, counselors and office workers.
The board had to close a nearly $408-million shortfall. Members said they had no choice but to order the cuts because of declining revenue from the state and federal governments. The general fund is about $7 billion.

"It is criminal what we are doing at the state level … but I know it's the best budget we can have at this moment," said board member Steve Zimmer, who voted for the budget.

Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte cast the only dissenting vote on the seven-member board.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget Thursday, but it is unclear how much revenue the district will receive. Los Angeles Unified officials had earlier reached agreements with most of its employee unions to take furlough days to save money. Officials achieved the rest of the savings by cutting some programs, shifting money from some accounts to the general fund and other moves.

District officials said next year's budget also looks daunting and estimated that they could face a $629-million shortfall next fiscal year.

School districts throughout California have been forced to shorten the school year, close campuses, and lay off teachers and other employees to balance their budgets.

"As poor a job as the state does in supporting schools, it would have been worse" without union cooperation, L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said.

Depending on how much money the district receives from the state, union members could take more or less unpaid time off.

District and union officials said they hoped to eventually rehire many employees who were laid off, but they said that some positions would be eliminated because the federal stimulus money that funded them has expired.

Parents and students have rallied to protect jobs at schools. At board meetings, they have argued that the cuts are short-sighted and will hurt schools at a time when teachers and administrators are under pressure to boost student achievement.

Critics also said the cuts would make schools unsafe and chaotic because the campuses could not operate smoothly with fewer employees.

More than 55% of the district's office workers have been laid off since 2008, said Connie Moreno, a representative of the California School Employees Assn., one of the unions that did not agree to furlough days.

"How do you imagine the schools are going to function?" Moreno asked board members.

Deasy and others have said that they tried to strike a deal with the office workers union. But Moreno said the district did not negotiate in good faith and was unwilling to compromise.

The district's successful Academic Decathlon program is among those being cut. The program's coordinator, Cliff Ker, has been reassigned to work half-time as an assistant principal at Bell High School, while continuing to oversee the decathlon program, district officials said.

The stipend that Academic Decathlon coaches receive will also be reduced. Previously, coaches were paid about $2,800 for the fall semester and $2,600 for the spring. For the upcoming school year, coaches will receive only the fall stipend.

L.A. Unified has the best Academic Decathlon program in the nation, winning far more national titles than any other district — a total of 12. Granada Hills Charter High School took home the top prize this year.

Jan Davis, administrative coordinator for secondary education, said that shifting Ker and cutting the coaches' stipends were necessary.

She said the district will continue to sponsor Saturday workshop sessions and pay retired district employees to work with teams.

But Ker worries that the decathlon's winning tradition may be compromised.

"I see this as another obstacle," Ker said, "but this might be an obstacle I can't overcome."

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