Tuesday, November 24, 2009

B U D G E T - LAUSD TO HALVE ITS LOCAL OFFICES: Even with closing local centers, deficit and thousands of layoffs still loom for coming year

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

Updated: 11/24/2009 08:43:55 PM PST

In a concession to unions, Los Angeles Unified Schools chief Ramon Cortines said Tuesday he will eliminate half the number of local district offices he helped create a few years ago in a bid to reduce next year's deficit of nearly $500 million.

But Cortines said savings from the move will amount to just $12 million, and tougher cutbacks, including layoffs, will have to be made to balance the budget.

"There is no way to avoid cuts," Cortines said at a special budget meeting called to inform the school board about the district's worsening financial outlook.

"We have less state and federal money and fewer students ... the district has to adjust."

On Tuesday, district staff said LAUSD now faces a deficit of $495 million for the 2010-11 school year - up $15 million from earlier projections that included cost-of-living adjustments that the district now does not anticipate receiving from the state.

The eight local districts, including two in the San Fernando Valley, have been a major sticking point for a majority of LAUSD's employee unions. Union leaders complain too much money is wasted in these minibureaucracies and on their administrative staff positions.

Cortines, however, said cutting the local districts to four will only save him about $12 million - about 3 percent of the district's total deficit - and it will not prevent layoffs.

The elimination of all local district offices has been a long-standing request of United Teachers Los Angeles, the largest district employee union representing about 37,000 teachers and 4,000 counselors and social workers - a majority of LAUSD's employees.

UTLA president A.J. Duffy said he did not believe shutting down half of these offices would only save $12 million.

"We will have to look at exactly what offices are shut down, then we'll have to look at the properties they vacate and the personnel that leaves to figure out exactly how much is saved," Duffy said.

Set up in 2000 by Cortines, when he was acting superintendent for six months, the local district offices were created as a way to give schools, teachers, administrators and parents more support and access to LAUSD resources.

Currently the eight offices are spread across the city. With about 50 people per office, they oversee all aspects of instruction, operations and discipline of students and teachers at the district's more than 885 schools and preschools.

Valley offices scrutinized

In the San Fernando Valley there are two local district offices representing the eastern and western portions of the region. Under this plan it is likely that only one office will remain in the region.

"Things will be more impersonal and relationships will suffer at a time when the district wants more personalization," said Michelle King, local district superintendent for District 3, representing much of West Los Angeles.

King, who has been with the district for 25 years as a teacher, school administrator and now district administrator, said the addition of the local district offices nine years ago helped increase efficiency at schools since staff could go to one neighborhood office, rather than downtown headquarters to get answers and information. The office also gave parents more access to district personnel.

The move to shut down the offices comes just two weeks after Cortines gave all district employees an ultimatum to accept four furloughs days this year and a 12 percent pay cut next year or face layoffs of up to 8,500 employees.

Cortines asked that concessions be made by Dec. 8, before the district is required to submit its budget to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

So far SEIU Local 99 - representing about 20,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians - has agreed to the concessions, saving the district about $7.7 million this year.

Duffy said he is ready and willing to talk to Cortines about concessions, but he would not comment further.

"We choose to negotiate the way the law says we are supposed to - not in the media," Duffy said.

While most of the district's budget woes stem from the state's continued fiscal crisis, enrollment at LAUSD has also dropped to its lowest point in more than a decade.

Currently 51,000 students within LAUSD boundaries - or about 8 percent of the district's entire enrollment - attend charter schools. Independent charter schools traditionally do not hire LAUSD staff.

Meeting new deficit

Last year, when the district expected a budget shortfall of $258 million, it said it would balance that by increasing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade from 24:1 to 29:1. The district also said it would have to cut arts and music programs in half and reduce school nurses and cops.

To address the new deficit, that includes an estimated $50 million to $60 million this year, and a deficit of $495 million next year, Cortines said schools should budget cuts of between 10 to 20 percent in services.

Revenue generating opportunities are being looked at. Cortines said he expects to sell about 10 LAUSD owned properties this year - none located in the San Fernando Valley.

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