By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer /LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/e3nMDm
02/15/2011 06:57:01 PM PST - Los Angeles Unified officials approved sending layoff notices to more than 7,000 employees Tuesday, to address a budget shortfall of at least $408 million for the 2011-12 school year.
After spending more than two hours debating the grim financial picture, the LAUSD school board voted 5-2 to approve a budget outline that makes sharp cuts to programs that include high-performing magnet schools, arts and music classes and pre-school.
The board also voted 4-2, with one abstention, to send layoff notices to 7,300 district teachers, principals, counselors, nurses and librarians. While not all are expected to lose their jobs, the district is required by state law to notify those who are at risk of being cut.
"This is the worst thing I've seen after 42 years in education," said board member Richard Vladovic.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines stressed that the budget plan represents a worst case scenario for LAUSD. The board will vote on a final budget by June 30.
By then, the district could be facing a smaller deficit, if Gov. Jerry Brown is able to place a series of tax extensions on the June ballot that would help fund education and bring in an additional $183 million in state funding for LAUSD.
The state legislature, however, has not approved placing those extensions on the ballot and it is still unclear whether California's voters would approve them.
An emotional Cortines said he did not think it was "fiscally responsible to rely on hot air from Sacramento."
"Now is the time all of us need to come together as a family to restore essential services needed by our children," said Cortines, who is set to retire April 15.
Consequences for not approving a balanced budget include a possible county or state takeover, said Deputy Superintendent John Deasy, who will become superintendent after Cortines retires.
"I want our employees to know that we don't desire to do any of this. ... We want to restore programs and services and revoke (layoff) notices," Deasy said.
"The administration has time, between now and June, to bring forward a package of restorations and shared commitments. ... This budget will allow us to work towards that."
Deasy called on employee labor unions to come to the negotiating table with ways to increase revenue and avoid more cuts over the next few months.
While the No. 2 school officials avoided laying out specific concessions, he said furloughs, which helped save thousands of positions last year, were not among his favored options.
"I want our labor partners to find long-term, sustainable solutions that keep our workforce at full employment and keep kids in school," he said.
One plan that has been discussed by Deasy with union leaders and board members, would change the benefits structure for LAUSD employees.
LAUSD workers currently receive full medical benefits without having to pay any insurance premiums. That is a $1 billion expense for the school district - about a fifth of LAUSD's general fund which pays for teacher salaries and other essential expenses.
Labor leaders, however, said benefits have long been a priority for most employees. Instead, many suggested other areas where district officials could look at cutting.
"Dig deep into this monster that exists here and wastes money," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
" I think...no, I know our students deserve no less, and our parents and community members demand it."
Judy Perez, president of the local administrator's union, also suggested floating another parcel tax. LAUSD was unsuccessful in getting a two-thirds majority of local voters to approve a parcel tax last year.
School board members Steve Zimmer and Marguerite La Motte, the two dissenting votes for both items, also argued that the district needs to look for alternate cost-savings options.
The budget plan, while not final, calls for class size increases at all grade levels except for senior high school. Under the proposal, kindergarten through third grade classes would balloon to a student teacher ratio of 30:1. In the already large upper elementary grades and middle school all classes would increase by two students.
La Motte, a former teacher and school principal, said she could not bring herself to vote in favor of such draconian cuts.
"We need a scalpel approach - not a machete approach," LaMotte said.
Further complicating things for LAUSD, is the impact that a recent legal settlement could have on the lay-off process at the district.
A group of civil rights law-firms, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, sued the school district to end the practice of using only seniority when deciding which teachers had to be laid off. The suit claimed that because a higher proportion of new teachers work at inner-city schools, students on these campuses were being denied access to a free and equal education.
The settlement essentially shields 45 district schools, which were selected based on the proportion of newer teachers they have as well as their academic performance, from losing any teachers or principals. The settlement also says all district schools must stay within an average range of laid-off teachers, so no one school loses more staff than another.
That settlement is being appealed by the teacher's union. If allowed to remain in place though, it would have a far-reaching impact on schools district-wide, since LAUSD officials would have to be moving further into the seniority list to select teachers to let go.