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School Board OKs Budget Labor Opposed

The plan depends on teachers giving up 21/2 paid days, subject to approval during contract negotiations with the unions.

June 04, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday passed a budget for the next academic year that asks most of the school district's 80,000 employees to give back 2 1/2 days of vacation or classroom preparation time -- half the five unpaid days previously sought.

The furloughs, which would represent a $35-million saving for the Los Angeles Unified School District, must be approved as part of union contract negotiations. Labor leaders have expressed opposition.

The unpaid days were part of $266.2 million in cuts and money transfers approved Tuesday in an attempt to bridge the estimated $370.3-million gap in the more than $6-billion budget for 2003-2004. The board had previously made other cuts totaling $93 million. None of the actions included layoffs, and the furloughs would not reduce students' time in the classroom, although other cuts are expected to reduce supplies and field trips.

"It hurts to make that kind of cut," said Supt. Roy Romer. But, he added, "We did it, and we did it with the right values .... We did not fire teachers. We saved people's jobs. But we had to do the furloughs," to get a balanced budget.

Originally, Romer had called for five-day unpaid furloughs for all employees -- to save $68 million. Under a compromise reached Tuesday, only employees earning more than $100,000 a year would be furloughed for five days. District officials said that they were researching how many employees could be docked those days, but that it would be a relatively small number, mainly administrators. Most of the district's 80,000 employees would be furloughed for 2 1/2 days, thus giving up what Romer said would represent less than 1% of their salaries.

The budget plan, proposed by board member Mike Lansing, was approved Tuesday by a 6-1 vote -- with two board members, David Tokofsky and Julie Korenstein, voting conditional support for parts of the resolution, and Jose Huizar voting against it.

Under Lansing's plan, $65 million will be cut from campus' discretionary spending on such things as supplies, photocopying and field trips; $24 million from programs for staff development; $5 million from overtime funds; and $11.2 million from the district's budget for deferred maintenance. About $106 million will be moved from the current year's account for discretionary spending into next year's budget.

Lansing equated the plan to the reluctant amputation of a leg. "You get the job done," he said, "but the reality is that you have less than you did before."

Huizar said he voted against the budget plan because he was wary of imposing furloughs or reductions in school funding without having full information about the budget. "I didn't have much confidence in our budget numbers," Huizar said after the meeting. "We need a better budget document and a better budget process."

The plan for the 746,000-student district will not be implemented until after the state budget is passed. Board President Caprice Young said that Lansing's proposal improves on Romer's previous plan by stipulating that the furloughs and the campus spending reductions be revoked if more state funds become available.

"These are extremely painful cuts," she said. Still, she added, "I think it's important that we acted today" in part to send a message to the state Legislature.

Lansing echoed this sentiment. "By doing this today," he said, "... we are acting at a higher professional level than the state Legislature," which has yet to pass a state budget.

John Perez, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night after the board vote, but he had said he would fight unpaid furloughs.

The board also defeated a measure that would have stopped the shift of 31 elementary schools from a 163-day, three-track calendar to a 180-day, four-track calendar as of July 1. The motion, supported by board members Genethia Hayes, Korenstein and Tokofsky, charged that the changeover would have "unintended consequences" for students at poor schools.

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