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Fiscal Sinkholes in the LAUSD

Overtime is exploding, and the taxpayer should be told why

May 11, 1997

No more money should be committed to overtime costs in the Los Angeles Unified School District until board members determine what is driving up expenses in the business, accounting and technology departments. These areas have become financial sinkholes. Wouldn't it be cheaper to hire more full-time and temporary employees in those areas as necessary, freeing up for the classroom the dollars now spent on overtime?

A Times analysis found that LAUSD overtime pay climbed to about $2 million last year, a fivefold increase over five years, and that employees in the three departments were averaging 111 hours a year in overtime. In other divisions, overtime rose only 25% overall in the period.

Administrators told the LAUSD board last week to count on spending up to $2 million for overtime again in next year's budget. What's happening? A fivefold increase in the workload? A problem caused by downsizing? A complicated project that could be farmed out to the private sector? Unexpected or seasonal work? These are some of the questions that board members should ask outgoing Supt. Sid Thompson and LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Henry Jones before a vote on budgeting.

A solid case should be made for committing any added resources before the new superintendent, Ruben Zacarias, takes over on July 1. Zacarias has promised to hire a business czar with corporate expertise to oversee the district's complicated financial interests. We would expect such an expert to put a hold on committing extra money until an analysis of district finances was done.

Any earlier allocations could discourage the reordering of priorities, the development of efficiencies and, significantly, getting to the bottom of the overtime problem. In the private sector, where profit often drives budget decisions, a quintupling of overtime costs would rarely be tolerated.

The current controversy calls into question other fiscal practices too. Supt. Thompson promises to put back any money that is budgeted but not spent. Such money is rarely left on the table, however. If there is any, it should go for the classrooms, not the front office.

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