Friday, November 13, 2009

The '09-'10 Contract | LAUSD ULTIMATUM: PAY CUTS OR LAYOFFS: Superintendent tells unions 8,500 employees could go to offset $480 million deficit

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

14 Nov 2009 -- Los Angeles Unified schools chief Ramon Cortines told unions Friday [the Thirteenth]  that they must accept a combination of furloughs and pay cuts this year and next or the district will be forced to lay off up to 8,500 employees.

Saying the district needed to bridge a $480 million budget gap for the 2010-11 school year, Cortines asked all employees to accept four furlough days this year and a 12 percent pay cut next year.

SEIU Local 99, representing service workers, and the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles said they were open to discuss the concessions. A United Teachers Los Angeles representative was not available for comment.

In a letter sent to all employee union leaders Friday, Cortines described the district's financial picture as "the worst budget crisis in years" and he urged all bargaining units to cooperate.

Unlike last year, he said, the district was not in any position to offer any early retirement incentives - like those recently approved by the Los Angeles City Council for city workers.

"Almost every department will be affected," he added. "We are being forced to function in a different way than in the past. ... It is to our students' benefit to work together now more than ever."

Cortines said the concessions would be necessary to maintain current staffing levels and service. He added that if no concessions are agreed to, the district would have to lay off from 7,500 to 8,500 employees — requiring some 14,000 reduction-in-force notices to go out in March — up from about 8,000 notices that went out last March. The district has to put out more notices than expected layoffs because of formulas that lead to uncertainty over which employees will be subject to layoffs.

"We are looking at one in five employees who will be informed that they may lose their jobs," Cortines wrote in the two-page letter.

All of the district's eight employee unions will have to agree to concessions before Dec. 8, when the district will have to submit a new balanced three-year budget to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

SEIU, representing many of the district's lowest-paid workers, has scheduled a vote of its members next week to approve four unpaid furlough days.

"We understand that there is a really terrible budget deficit and the cuts from Sacramento are dire," union spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said.

"We are really just trying to prevent further loss of jobs," she continued. "We've already seen 500 custodial positions cut this school year, and we realize to address this deficit we need to take these steps."

Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, said her union was prepared to work with the district to find solutions.

"If you ask me if I'm in favor of furloughs, I'll tell you no, but we are ready to sit down and negotiate," Perez said.

But what the district really needs is concessions from UTLA - something the union has fought for decades. UTLA president A.J. Duffy was unavailable for comment Friday.

The news of more cuts comes just months after LAUSD eliminated more than 5,000 jobs - 2,000 teachers, 400 counselors and an estimated 2,800 nonteaching school workers to cover a $596 million deficit.

Still, many of those workers were later rehired as other employees took an early retirement incentive package. Last year, no employee unions came forward with any concessions.

However, last year the district had federal stimulus funding to ease the pain of the budget squeeze. This year, Cortines said, the district will not have the same funding.

The district projected it would need to eliminate full-day kindergarten and all arts and music programs to close a projected budget deficit of $1.1 billion through 2012. Officials also included concessions that they hoped to get from employee unions, including 27 furlough days for out-of-classroom teachers and a 5 percent salary reduction for all district staff.

They sent that in a budget to the county Office of Education, which rejected it because the concessions had not been agreed to by the unions. Now the county wants union approval in writing before it signs off on LAUSD's budget.

The four furlough days that officials are asking for this year would cover an existing deficit of between $50 million and $60 million this year, district officials said.

The 12 percent pay cut would cover the $480 million deficit projected for next year - one that Cortines and other officials said could grow even bigger.

"Teachers are working their butts off this year. ... Those laid-off teachers made all class sizes bigger, and to ask those teachers to now take a pay cut is difficult," said Jose Navarro, a history teacher at Sylmar High.

"But if you ask me personally if I had to take a furlough day or two to help my students I would ... and I think a lot of the teachers I work with closely would share that view."

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