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School Board OKs Cuts of $56 Million

Budget: Non-classroom areas take the hit. But trustees delay larger trims until lawmakers reduce state spending.

January 25, 2002|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to an unusual midyear budget crisis, the Los Angeles school board voted unanimously Thursday to cut its spending by $56 million, mainly by targeting maintenance and administrative programs.

But the Board of Education delayed a vote on Los Angeles Supt. Roy Romer's full austerity proposal, which would require an additional $92 million in cuts that would affect classrooms more directly. In anticipation of Gov. Gray Davis' proposed state education budget, district officials directed principals last week to comb their ledgers for spare funds. Some campuses warned that they would have to end music classes or ration paper and pencils.

"The board is unwilling to make tough choices until the Legislature tells us what tough choices we need to make," said Board of Education President Caprice Young. The board will make a decision on other reductions within 30 days.

Board members said they were not convinced that state lawmakers would approve all of the governor's proposed education cuts, which would remove $74 million from the Los Angeles district's bottom line. The district is overspending its current budget by $59 million, and Romer wants additional cuts as a cushion.

Board members Jose Huizar and David Tokofsky said they had heard from legislators who plan to fight the governor's proposed cuts.

"There was some skepticism," said Huizar, who led his colleagues in suggesting a wait-and-see stance on Romer's proposal. "I wanted more information."

Board member Genethia Hayes said Romer's request that principals find $59 million in savings would harm instruction. She advocated deeper administrative cuts.

Among Thursday's cuts were $25 million in unspent funds for utilities, insurance and legal fees, $15 million for district office supplies, and $7 million for a counseling program that will instead be funded by Medi-Cal. The board also voted to advise principals to reduce spending in case bigger cuts are implemented later, but set no specific numbers.

"Times are tough and we need to prepare," Romer said.

But he said he wanted to be careful to safeguard core instructional programs and was heartened Thursday by the board's approval of a landmark $45-million literacy program to emphasize reading throughout the school curriculum.

Principals have complained that Romer's plan to trim per-student spending by $59 million could cut into vital programs just when many schools are making gains in test scores.

Whatever their disagreements with the specific cuts in Romer's plan, most board members said they were pleased that he asked principals for their suggestions instead of dictating uniform rollbacks at all campuses.

Tokofsky said that making school principals examine their budgets revealed a surprising number of possible trims.

"If schools have enough money dangling around to make up the district shortfall," Tokofsky said, "it means they aren't managing their money."

Huizar said Romer's move will make schools more responsible.

"The fact is, we don't have a history of knowing how much money is allocated to each school and how much money they are spending," Huizar said.

In other news, the district announced Thursday that it had hired Thomas C. Boysen, the head of the Milken Family Foundation education grant program, as chief operating officer of the school system, responsible for business and facilities management. Boysen, who will be paid $215,000 a year, is a former state commissioner of education for Kentucky, and led school districts in Washington, New York and California, including the San Diego County district.

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