Sunday, January 11, 2009


Editorial from the Los Angeles Newspaper Group

11 January -- There's one surefire way to tell that state leaders are wrangling over budgets in Sacramento: Education officials are shrieking about the end of the world in Los Angeles.

It happens every year.

If budgets are tight - and given Sacramento's propensity to create a budget crisis every two to three years, that's often - Los Angeles Unified School District officials will offer up a number of dire predictions for what might happen if they don't get enough money:

Zillions of kids crammed into dilapidated classrooms; students starving without subsidized meals; thousands of teachers taking to the unemployment lines.

It's easy to get cynical about this Chicken Little act. The predictions of woe never seem to materialize. Usually they just serve to rile up parents and, more importantly, the unions, who in turn lobby Sacramento, which ultimately comes through with less draconian cuts.

It's worth remembering that the LAUSD hasn't had widespread teacher layoffs in more than a decade.

That said, this year's state budget crisis is extreme even by Sacramento standards. The combination of a down economy and years without financial discipline has taken its fiscal toll, resulting in a $40billion deficit. And LAUSD officials report a $400million (or 3 percent) shortfall in their $12 billion budget.

So, predictably, they're conjuring up countless ways students may have to suffer: Kindergarten classes packed with 40 children; 45 million meals lost for poor students; no art classes; pink slips for hundreds of teachers.

But such extreme consequences, of course, are unacceptable.

This is a school district with a bureaucracy so massive that it just fired its superintendent - who was hired for his ability to manage complex organizations - because he couldn't get a handle on it. Poor David Brewer III could never even figure out how many superfluous bureaucrats he had, let alone what they were doing.

This is also a school district that, due to its perpetually problematic payroll system, continues to pay employees who have long ago left or even died. And it has an entire layer of mini districts that have never delivered on their promise of decentralization and only add to the bureaucratic fat.

All of which is to say, there's a lot of cutting to be done in administration before anyone should even think of slashing classroom resources. There are also many high-priced consultants who should get the ax before any teachers do.

The district could also save some money by stopping its passive-aggressive battle against charter schools. These campuses educate students better - and less expensively - than traditional public schools. The LAUSD should embrace charters instead of trying to make life miserable for them.

Cuts at the classroom level ought to be a last resort. It's unthinkable that even one needed teacher should be let go while even one needless bureaucrat hangs on to his job.

●●smf's 2¢:   Sometimes one suspects that the Daily News editorial board is writing for The Daily [Other] Planet.

First: The real surefire way to tell that state leaders are wrangling over the budget is to wake up in the morning: state leaders have been wrangling over this year’s budget since January of last year. They have wrangled and they have generated one budget 85 days late that unraveled before the red ink was dry – and another one the Governor vetoed. California has no budget seven months into the fiscal year. Without a budget California has a single digit credit rating, that digit is zero. If California were a corporation the Sixty Minutes expose would have led to federal indictments, perp walks, plea bargains and/or court dates by now. 

Second: The Daily News doesn’t dispute the $40billion state revenue shortfall or the $400 million LAUSD funding shortfall (on top of $500 million already cut this year) – but they miss that Sacramento controls the funding, not LAUSD. Sacramento promised more and is delivering less – how is that LAUSD’s doing? And most importantly, how is any of this the responsibility of the kids in the classrooms who are paying the price? Right now they don’t have paper and pencils; soon enough they won’t have their teachers.

Third: The Daily News beats the last years’ dead horse in the payroll debacle. 

Fourth: The Daily News says: “such extreme consequences, of course, are unacceptable.”  The unacceptable consequences are the consequences of inaction in Sacramento, not at Beaudry, in the principal's office or in the classroom. A hundred and twenty one  lawmakers - 80 assemblypeople, 40 senators and one governor - have not done their constitutionally mandated homework. Six million children have been left behind, seven hundred thousand of them in our school district.

  • The governor has proposed shortening the school year by five days. Not just for the economic crisis …but forever.
  • Categorical flexibility:
    • The governor proposes giving school districts ‘discretion’ on whether they wish to continue small class sizes in K-3 Or layoff teachers…or go bankrupt. (Laying off teachers actually may not be an option – teachers do have contracts!)
    • Arts & Music and Afterschool programs?  Programs for English Language Learners? Programs for children of poverty? P.E.? The school lunch program? Districts can choose which ones they want, it’s local control …while Sacramento cuts funding to them.
  • smf’s Second Law of Political Dynamics: No one ever granted spending flexibility while increasing funding.
  • The local discretionary flexibility will be the choice between those programs or keeping and paying teachers; when the crisis is over the discretion will be between reviving those programs or giving teachers raises.

Where is the Daily News on this? Are these extreme consequences acceptable?

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