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School Board Delays Major Budget Cuts

Vote on $385 million in spending reductions is put off until more is known about state finances. But members do trim $36 million.

May 02, 2003|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Thursday cut $36 million from its budget for next year, but postponed decisions on another $385 million in proposed reductions.

The board also delayed a final vote on midyear cuts of $27 million to school site spending on field trips, instructional materials and other campus expenditures.

So far, the district has cut $43 million from the current 2002-03 academic year.

Like many school districts around the state, Los Angeles Unified, with an annual operating budget of $6 billion, is facing its third consecutive year of deficits.

"It's not easy to cut that. You could even argue it's not wise to do that. But we need the money," said schools Supt. Roy Romer.

"In the next few weeks, we're going to be cutting things that are very essential."

On Thursday, the board made $11 million in cuts by deferring an expansion of its school landscaping maintenance program, reducing spending on lawyers and finding ways to streamline administrative costs and purchasing.

The board also voted to borrow $25 million from its workers' compensation reserve.

But with Sacramento lawmakers saying there will be more bad news on state funding for education, board members struggled with their consciences Thursday.

They put off more controversial reductions, such as laying off library aides and school health workers, until they can get more information about the effects from district staff members next week.

"When the cuts are this deep, everybody's nervous," said board member Julie Korenstein.

"We know what's going to happen, we know it's not going to be OK, so it makes it very hard. Everybody's nervous."

At one point, board member Mike Lansing briefly walked out of the meeting, angry at his colleagues' decision not to make a decision on the midyear spending reductions.

"I've never seen such inaction in my life," he said. "It was so spineless, so gutless."

He said board members were paralyzed by their belief "that some kind of miracle will come out of Sacramento."

Lansing also said the board is in the midst of a transition that has made it harder to focus on its difficult job.

Korenstein and board member David Tokofsky are campaigning in election runoffs for City Council and school board, respectively.

Genethia Hudley Hayes and Caprice Young, who proposed delaying the vote on the $27 million in midyear cuts until after the state issues its final budget, were defeated in the March elections and will leave office next month.

During a midday break in the cost-cutting session, the board members rushed to an annual luncheon in honor of their classified employees, library aides, district outreach personnel, computer technicians and other staff members who could be targeted for layoffs this year.

Rosalyn Savage, president of the California School Employees Assn., which represents the majority of the district's 8,000 classified workers, said she was still holding out hope that her members would not be laid off.

"I even heard that they are talking about cutting this event," she said, referring to the luncheon.

"It's kind of two-faced," Morningside Elementary School library aide Sabrina Rel said between bites of stuffed chicken breast.

"They're honoring us now, but the next day they might cut our jobs."

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