By Beth Barrett Staff Writer | LA Daily News/Daily Breeze
06/08/2008 - Facing massive proposed state budget cuts, Los Angeles Unified schools chief David Brewer III is weighing a mandatory, unpaid furlough program for all district workers - including teachers.
Brewer told the Daily News last week that he is continuing to lobby the state to restore $353million for LAUSD, but he said that if legislators don't relent he's also looking at possible layoffs of more than 400 nonschool staff.
Although he said he will not seek any layoffs of teachers, Brewer said other reductions could include deferring workers' comp payments and cutting back on book purchases.
Some cuts at headquarters also will be made immediately, partially because of the tight budget but also as part of the superintendent's longstanding plans to decentralize, he said.
But now instead of the savings being shifted to boost things such as magnet schools, longer school days in places such as the East San Fernando Valley, and other enhancements, Brewer said it might have to be used to pay more routine bills.
"This budget is really killing a lot of our dreams," he said.
The furlough proposal, however, could face fierce opposition from a variety of officials including Senior Deputy Superintendent Ray Cortines, who said he supports the plan only for higher-paid employees.
"I support (Brewer) on the high end," Cortines said. "I disagree on the lower end. We have to protect lower-paid employees."
And A.J. Duffy, president of the teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles, said the union will fight any furloughs that mean pay cuts for teachers - and won't stand for a repeat of 1993-94 when teachers absorbed pay cuts of about 10percent.
"I won't hesitate to go to the membership to ask for a strike if they cut salaries or lay people off in a massive way," he said.
"We'll shut the whole place down and let the city and school district deal with 750,000 students not being in class."
Duffy said the union instead is proposing the closure and sale of the district's downtown Beaudry Building headquarters, transferring mini-district administrators to school sites, cutting layers of middle management and reducing outside contracts. "Then there would be money for teachers and educational programs," Duffy said. "LAUSD's bureaucracy is the single biggest impediment to education in Los Angeles."
Furloughs of up to eight days or more have been discussed, but district officials and board members said two- day furloughs are now being considered the most seriously.
School board member Tamar Galatzan said a decision on whether furloughs will be necessary should be made when the board votes on the budget Tuesday.
Galatzan said she's pushed for furloughs for nonschool staff at headquarters and in local districts to try to minimize any impact on students.
"Having kids miss out on two days of school isn't something I want them to do," she said.
Board member Julie Korenstein said furloughs have advantages over salary cuts.
"With furloughs you don't have to work and give up your salary," Korenstein said.
The budget crisis is the latest challenge for Brewer, who has been beset by a variety of issues since taking office less than two years ago, including glitches with a new computer payroll system that have cost the district millions of dollars.
Speculation has grown in recent months about Brewer's role after Brewer hired former LAUSD chief Ray Cortines about six weeks ago for $250,000 to run the district's day-to-day operations.
But Cortines and Brewer told the Daily News they agree on the direction for the district. And they both disputed speculation that Brewer, a retired three-star Navy admiral, might be replaced by Cortines.
"My life has been crisis after crisis. ... That's another reason I brought Ray Cortines in," he said. "There's no way in the world we're going to fight our way through all these crises with the CEO/superintendent out there battling the systems, external in the budget case, and have an organization running efficiently. You can't do it."
Brewer said that with Cortines on board he no longer has to "micromanage" the district, and he can focus on larger strategies such as developing magnet schools, attracting middle-class students back from private and parochial schools, raising money for special projects and working closely with the board.
Brewer, who's paid $300,000 annually, said he's committed to the district and expects to complete his four-year contract. He said he purchased a home near Loyola Marymount University and Los Angeles International Airport.
"You hear rumors all the time. I talk to every board member every week. No board member has expressed any lack of confidence in me personally," Brewer said. "There may be board members saying things behind my back, but that's the way it goes."
Cortines said he also thinks Brewer will finish his contract and that he was hired because the district needs to move forward. "I think he saw that, and the board saw that," Cortines said, adding that he's committed to staying, too. "I'm here for the long haul. There's no time limit."
District sources said board members are waiting to see whether the Brewer-Cortines team can work smoothly together, noting Cortines - who has deeper experience in education - is working on many projects quietly in the background.
Cortines and Brewer said the looming budget cuts will aid the long-standing effort to decentralize LAUSD. Cortines said the district failed on its promises eight years ago to put more emphasis on local schools, and Brewer said decentralization is essential to win back "middle class" families and their children.
Cortines attempted to more completely decentralize the district in 2000 to fend off efforts by San Fernando Valley parents to break up the giant district.
But a state audit concluded after Cortines left that LAUSD had failed to live up to its promise to parents and had left too much authority in the hands of downtown bureaucrats.
Cortines said he has made it clear to Brewer that LAUSD must live up to its promise. The 2000 plan called for 11largely autonomous local districts. While eight eventually were created, Cortines said they still lack the envisioned authority.
"I feel so betrayed because I sold the community, literally sold the community" on decentralization, Cortines said.
"Decisions weren't to be made at (the downtown Beaudry headquarters), they were to be made out here, and that didn't happen, and I know that."
The 2000 plan is being updated to provide benchmarks for local district superintendents - who are to be under one-year contracts. Cortines also wants to develop a report card on every school.
"The present system, in the eyes of many, is functionally broken and is widely criticized by political leaders, media and citizens ...," Cortines wrote in a May memo to Brewer and the board.
"Poor morale is interfering with the ability to focus on our children to the degree that is expected and has led to an unprecedented growth in the number of charter schools in the district."