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Critics Say They Foresaw Budget Woes in Inglewood

July 26, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

As the Inglewood Unified School District hunts for ways to cut almost $2 million from its budget, some opponents of a hefty pay raise for teachers say their gloomy predictions are coming true.

While they say teachers deserved higher salaries, administrators, board members and others say the district cannot afford the 10% raise and matching increase for other employees approved in March.

They point to proposed budget reductions that would slash $1.9 million worth of programs, staff positions and supplies from a tentative general fund budget of $42 million. The proposal includes closing a school for kindergartners and first-graders, laying off a fourth or more of the district's approximately 400 teacher aides and cutting maintenance and clerical staff.

The $1.9 million is the approximate cost of the pay raise, but supporters of the raise say other factors are crimping the budget.

Amid stormy political and labor conflicts that included short-term teacher walkouts, the three-year contract gave teachers a 10% raise retroactive to the start of the 1986-87 school year, to be followed by a 4% increase the second year. The third year is open to negotiation.

Board members voted for the contract 3 to 2 along factional lines that have since blurred with the defeat of two board members in June. One had voted for the increase and the other opposed it.

"Where are the teachers who were out there with picket signs now?" said former Board member W. R. (Tony) Draper. "Where's all the money the teachers said the school district was hiding? Everyone will suffer from this to some extent except the teachers. Some people will lose their jobs completely."

Draper lost his seat to Lois Hill Hale in the June 9 runoff election. He has acknowledged that his loss was partly attributable to voters angered by his opposition to the wage increase. Former board member William Dorn, who proposed the 10% raise and had the support of the Inglewood Teachers Assn., was edged out in the election by Zyra McCloud.

Dorn was joined by traditional allies Ernest Shaw and Caroline Coleman in approving the contract while Draper and Rose Mary Benjamin favored a smaller increase.

The pay raise, opponents said, was intended to win teachers' political support and was fiscally irresponsible. Angry with the raise and the fact that it would come from fluctuating state lottery allocations to school districts, Draper said it would be "only fair" to raise all district salaries 10%. The board also passed that measure this spring.

"We would still be in financial difficulty" without the 10% raise, Benjamin said in an interview. "But it would not have been as hard. We would still have the lottery money. Our administrators had advised us against that amount of a raise. I think parents and even teachers are beginning to understand the impact."

Coleman took an entirely different view.

"I don't think the teacher pay raise is relevant or significant to the cuts we're talking about now," she said, blaming the tightness of funds on losses of federal and state money.

"The district needs to stay competitive," she said. "Because without the personnel to make all this happen nothing will happen."

The teachers union says the district's budget problems are due not to the pay raises, but to historically inadequate financial planning, a top-heavy administrative hierarchy and overall waste, in addition to inadequate state aid.

"Parents worked with us for that raise," teachers association President Ken Franklin said. "The district was in black ink at the time. And there's a national shortage of teachers. One of the top priorities is to attract teachers" to Inglewood.

While he praised the work of Jerry Norman, assistant superintendent for business, Franklin said, "he's inherited the effects of years of questionable financial planning and forecasting. The district is generally top-heavy in administrators and hierarchy is gradually growing larger and larger. The district needs to cut pet projects away from basic education. They could save millions of dollars if they cut overtime and waste."

Norman's budget reduction package calls for eliminating 66% of all overtime for maintenance, security and custodial staff and cracking down on what administrators and board members say is massive abuse of overtime. Board members called for an "efficiency audit" of district personnel at a budget session last week.

Hill Hale, the new school board president, said the original proposed 7% raise to teachers would have been sufficient and said the previous board members did not consider the consequences of their actions. But she also said the district could achieve half the necessary budget cuts through review of overtime spending and waste.

"You would be surprised at how much money is misspent," Hill Hale said. While layoffs of teaching aides may be inevitable, Hill Hale said, the district should also look at "big salaries."

"We could streamline at the top, through attrition," she said.

That will be difficult, however. At its last meeting, the board was forced to shelve recommended cutbacks of management personnel and counselors after board attorneys said the move would be on shaky legal ground because notification deadlines have passed.

"Administrative cuts are not very likely," Benjamin said. "And we're a long way from cutting $1.9 million. I'm not optimistic we can avoid cutting programs."

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