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School Budget Gap Is Filled

L.A. Unified board completes the tough job of making cuts in preparation for submitting a balanced spending plan today.

June 30, 2004|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

After three months of wrangling with a $500-million budget shortfall, the Los Angeles school board brought the extended cutting process to an end Tuesday through $75 million in budget adjustments and increased revenue.

"I've got to have a zero at the end of the page at the end of the day," Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer reminded the board, referring to a one-page summary of the remaining cost cuts that his office had prepared. The district must present a balanced budget to the Los Angeles County Office of Education by 5 p.m. today.

The budget gap was covered by, among other things, paring down the local subdistrict structure, a move made earlier this month; reducing the cost of consultant contracts; improving student attendance; and drawing from state funding that will come to the district once a state budget is approved by lawmakers in Sacramento.

After the final cuts were made, the school board approved the district's provisional 2004-05 budget by a vote of 5 to 1, with board member David Tokofsky voting against it.

Board member Mike Lansing, present for part of the meeting, was absent for the vote.

The $6.8-billion operating budget adopted by the board Tuesday reflected a change in district bookkeeping, due in part to a complicated accounting process and confusion about whether categorical, pass-through and other special funds should be included.

In all of its public relations information, the district had been using a figure of $5.7 billion for the overall budget, a number that has been used by The Times and other publications.

But with the arrival of a new controller, Richard Knott, the district chose to report costs for specially funded programs such as regional occupational centers and magnet schools -- money that the district is obligated to spend in certain ways -- as part of the operating budget.

In an interview after the vote, board President Jose Huizar called this year's cuts "one of the most difficult."

But he praised the board's initiative in making most of the cuts from central offices and local districts while preserving funding for school sites, which he said would allow the schools to continue improving student test scores and achievement.

Eventually, Huizar said, "Californians have to face up to the fact that they need to invest more money in public education."

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