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L.A. School Board Approves $4.4-Billion Budget : Education: Spending plan includes money for new contract offer to teachers. Union had voted to strike in lieu of an acceptable pact.


The Los Angeles Board of Education on Monday adopted a $4.4-billion budget that includes enough money to pay for a new contract offer the district hopes will avert a threatened strike by teachers.

Helen Bernstein, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said she presented the offer Monday afternoon to the union's 50-member board of directors, which will decide whether to recommend its approval.

Bernstein declined to make public the offer's details, and district officials would not confirm the existence of the offer, citing a news blackout on salary negotiations.

But Board President Mark Slavkin said he expects talks with the teachers union to wrap up soon. "I expect that we will conclude negotiations before the start of the school year . . . and put the focus on student achievement," he said.

Earlier this summer, the UTLA membership voted overwhelmingly to strike if contract negotiations failed to produce an acceptable pact.

Bernstein said most senior teachers have gone several years without raises and earned less last year than in 1991. Younger teachers have received raises based on additional experience and university credits.

The salary agreement with teachers traditionally is offered to other employee groups as well.

Before the start of contract talks, the district had proposed cutting salaries by 4%. At the same time, teachers were demanding a raise.

Since those positions were made public, the district determined that it wound up last year with an unexpectedly large general fund balance of $100 million. Revenue increases included in the new state budget and other factors bring to $125 million the amount the district says it has available for salaries, restoring programs cut during the past five years or improving some programs.

Each 1% across-the-board salary increase costs the district about $21 million, and the district has vowed to spend at least half of any new money from the state on salaries. Additionally, the financial document adopted Monday restores to teachers money that had been withheld from their salaries in previous years to keep the district's budget balanced.

The board vote Monday was 6 to 0, with board member David Tokofsky abstaining.

Slavkin said the school district is financially healthy, in contrast to Los Angeles County, which is struggling to close a budget gap expected to lead to the elimination of many health and other public services.

Board members expressed relief that the school district fared relatively well in the state budget for this year. "I'm delighted to be able to state that we don't have to make any cuts in this budget year," said board member Julie Korenstein. "I was on this board when we had to make $420 million in cuts in one year . . . and I hope we never have to do that again."

She said employees bore the brunt of those cuts, in the form of salary reductions, and now should have their wages increased. "It's really their money and we owe it back to them," she said.

Also included in the budget is about $42 million that is supposed to be set aside for deferred maintenance, educational technology or instructional materials.

The school board will vote next week on how to spend part of that money, in the wake of a public hearing to discuss needs in those three areas. At the hearing last week, employee unions, parents groups and others listed needs far more costly than the money available.

"It was evident . . . that there is a tremendous amount of need," said Henry Jones, the district's chief financial officer. "Now we need to take all of these demands, which are legitimate, and determine which ones will be funded."

The district has a $600-million backlog in the area of deferred maintenance alone; a quarter of that amount is for repaving asphalt playgrounds.

The district plans to spend $2.2 million on its facilities, the bulk of it for re-roofing, out of other funds.

The bill for education-related computer technology is estimated at $200 million, officials said.

And the district also has a book shortage, requiring schools to use out-of-date books and to force students to share books, meaning they cannot take them home to study.

The budget approved Monday reflects the heavy reliance of school districts on state and federal funds. Property and other types of local taxes provide less than a quarter of the district's revenues, with the state contributing more than half and the federal government kicking in about 10%.

By far the largest share of the district's expenditures--nearly two-thirds--goes for salaries and benefits. The next largest segment goes for outside contracts and amounts to only 12% of expenditures.

The district spends less than $4 of every $100 on books and instructional supplies.

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