By George B. Sánchez, Staff Writer | LA Newspaper Group
02/04/2009 -- Los Angeles Unified School District officials are confident a little help from paid Washington, D.C., lobbyists and a few personal appeals to U.S. congressmen and -women can secure the school district $1billion in federal stimulus money.
The money will balance the district's budget, which is expected to be slashed by nearly the same amount this school year due to dwindling state resources.
"We have a president who understands we have to invest at home in education," said LAUSD Board of Education member Yolie Flores Aguilar. "All eyes are on D.C. as we've lost hope for funds from the state."
The House of Representatives approved an $819 billion stimulus plan last week. Currently, the Senate is discussing what most think will be an even bigger package as President Barack Obama calls on voters to push their elected officials to support the plan.
Based on the latest numbers, the LAUSD is projected to earn about $1 billion, or 11 percent of education stimulus monies set aside for California, said Matt Hill, an administrative officer to Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
The $1 billion would more than cover the previous $427million cuts to the current school year as well as additional $400 million midyear cuts that have been threatened because of California's budget stalemate. From the total federal package, about $435 million would go toward school construction and repair, explained Santiago Jackson, director of the LAUSD's governmental affairs office, and $237 million would be what Hill called "stabilization" funds.
"It's to help keep teachers in the classroom and protect the classroom," he said.
Some $217 million would go toward programs for poor students, $90 million would be set aside for special education and $20 million would be for education technology, said district officials.
The LAUSD has hired The Raben Group, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, for a six- week contract worth up to $25,000.
The Raben Group has previously worked on behalf of the LAUSD regarding federal education programs, such as No Child Left Behind.
Raben's Larry Gonzalez said the group is familiar with the district's needs and will push to get federal officials to deliver the funds straight to district offices.
"There is a sense of urgency to directly fund school districts instead of sending money to the state," Gonzalez said.
Along with professional lobbyists, district staff members have been in contact with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Xavier Becerra and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. Flores Aguilar also visited with elected officials when she was in the nation's capital for the inauguration.
District officials have also lobbied alongside the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for the nation's largest urban school districts.
"We've tried everything here in California and we've gotten nowhere," Flores Aguilar said, explaining district appeals to federal officials. "It's a great return on the investment we make with Raben and dues to the council."
●●smf’s 2¢: The Daily News’ assumptions are a little off; the stimulus is hardly a windfall! There will be cuts. There will be layoffs and staff reductions. There will be programs eliminated. The $1 billion doesn’t spread so thin because it covers this year’s [‘08-‘09] budget (already cut $427 million with an additional 400 million anticipated) – and next year’s [‘09-‘10] budget …which would carry forward the $827 million in cuts and whatever funding and revenue shortfalls created by economic collapse and future Sacramento budget reductions. One can anticipate a certain amount of horrified hand wringing over the $25,000 lobbying contract to the Raben Group. $25 grand to make sure $1 billion happens is a 400,000 times return-on-investment – and New York City Schools and Chicago City Schools have full time resident lobbyists – undoubtedly with tasseled loafers - in DC.