Op-Ed by Ramon C. Cortines in the LA Daily News
7/13/2010 - THE exodus continues out of 333 S. Beaudry Ave., the central headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Every time I get on the elevator I see employees carrying boxes and other personal belongings. Some speak and manage a half-hearted smile. Some avert their eyes. Others even glare coldly. Their grim faces and slumped shoulders personify a tsunami of budget cuts.
LAUSD's budget was reduced by another 19 percent at Beaudry Avenue and 50 percent at local district offices for 2010-2011. Including these cuts, total budgets will have been reduced by 48 percent for the central office and by 72 percent for the regional offices since the 2006-2007 school year. Overall, the district's work force has shrunk by more than 14,000 employees - off and on school campuses since the 2007-2008 school year. Remember, LAUSD has more than one million K-12 and adult students, and nearly 900 schools. I assure you, LAUSD is not top heavy.
The district has been faced with a huge budget gap for the third consecutive year thanks to the politically paralyzed priorities of Sacramento. Consequently, I have proposed budget cuts to the LAUSD Board of Education that betray my principles as an educator and sacrifice reforms that help children learn. Among them: a shorter school year, larger classes and older textbooks.
Challenges, yes, but we will never lower our expectations for our students, teachers, administrators or support staff. We remain just as committed to our primary mission: excellent education for every student with results that include a diploma and cap and gown.
Lean has become mean with too many students per teacher. Lean has become mean with fewer days of instruction. Lean has become mean as students are told no summer school unless they flunked a core academic subject needed to graduate. No arts and music instruction unless you're lucky enough to be among the students, two out of three, whose classes didn't get cut. No, the library isn't open today at elementary schools. No soap in the restrooms - well, maybe it's not that bad. But everything will be cleaned less often.
These budget cuts mean much more work for less pay. Educators and many non-instructional employees took at least five furlough days during the school year that just ended, and are scheduled to take seven furlough days next school year. Yet they remain responsible for the same level of academic success. A smaller paycheck is no reward for a hard job made more difficult.
In addition to taking furloughs, more than 1,300 employees - most of them administrators and support staff at Beaudry - will take a 15 percent pay cut when their work schedule is reduced from 12 months to 10 months on July 1. But by necessity, most will continue to work year-round despite 40 days off without pay. Who will do the work when they are off? Who will manage, supervise, guide, plan or respond to crises? Who will answer the telephones?
On July 1, the LAUSD budget was balanced as required by law. But students will suffer.
Measure E, the limited parcel tax that failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote in June, would have slowed some of the hemorrhaging resulting from the State's abysmal finances. There is hope in Sacramento if the Assembly Democrats' budget proposal passes. Washington, D.C. could save as many as 3,000 jobs if Congress passes the Harkin bill. That's another big if.
And, forget about the extras.
Only the generosity of Southern California's professional sports community and foundations has saved football, basketball and other competitive athletics for our students. I'm now asking Los Angeles' professional arts community to save music and art instruction for our boys and girls.
As adults, when times are bad, we tighten our belts and hope things will get better next year or the year after.
Students can't wait for unemployment to drop, the housing market to rebound, or Washington, D.C. to bail out the banks or automobile industry. What will they remember from third grade or sixth grade or ninth grade? Will they remember that they got out of school a week early because LAUSD didn't have the money to pay its teachers?
Given current realities, the 2010-2011 budget I recommended and the Board of Education recently approved is lean. Sadly, I also believe it is mean.
Ramon C. Cortines is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.