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L.A. Unified may lay off almost 2,300 teachers, officials say

The midyear job cuts are being considered because the state budget crisis has left the district at least $250 million short. Newer teachers are the most vulnerable.

January 07, 2009|Jason Song and Howard Blume

As many as 2,300 teachers could face midyear layoffs because of the state budget crisis, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said Tuesday.

The state deficit has created a shortfall of at least $250 million in the school district's nearly $6-billion budget, prompting officials to propose sending the layoff notices to 1,690 elementary school teachers and 600 math and English teachers in middle and high schools. The teachers at risk would be those with less than two years of service, who lack the greater job protection afforded tenured instructors.

"We are now anticipating layoffs. We hope to do these unavoidable reductions in force with as little disruption as possible," Supt. Ramon C. Cortines wrote in a letter this week to district employees.

Cortines said he hoped to limit the number of layoffs that might be required but also emphasized the severity of the crisis in a Tuesday news conference. "We will be bankrupt if I do not do this," he said.

The potential teacher layoffs could save the district up to $65 million this year, Chief Financial Officer Megan K. Reilly said. Hundreds of non-teaching employees are likely to lose their jobs regardless of what happens with teachers, district officials have said.

Even before school started in the fall, the Board of Education had cut almost $400 million from this year's budget and district officials had hoped to avoid further reductions. But since then, the state budget problems have worsened, making additional cuts unavoidable, Cortines said.

Because the potential layoffs would take place in the middle of the school year, students would face rearranged, more crowded classes with new teachers. Some of those new instructors could be displaced central office employees who have the legal right to return to the classroom.

Any layoffs would have to be approved by the Board of Education, which meets Tuesday. Cortines also said he would recommend that the district borrow from reserves, offer early-retirement incentives and other measures.

Cortines said he was not considering shortening the school year, a cost-saving move some districts are contemplating.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said the teachers union would oppose any layoffs.

"Of course we're going to fight it," Duffy said. "We don't want to lose the next generation of teachers. This would be devastating for teachers and worse for the kids."

The union leader said the cuts would especially hurt school reform efforts because smaller classes are perhaps the most effective such measure.

Although new teachers are at immediate risk, tenured teachers could lose their jobs in budget cuts being developed for the next two years. Those teachers could get notices of possible future layoffs in March.

The last time Los Angeles teachers faced massive layoffs was in the early 1990s, during a previous economic downturn. That crisis was resolved when teachers voted to accept a 10% pay cut in exchange for greater control over health benefits and classroom assignments.

"This is definitely on teachers' minds," veteran business teacher Laurie Holzapfel, who works at East Valley High School in North Hollywood, said Tuesday. "I share a room with a new teacher. I'm sure there's at least a dozen more at my school. If they leave, what do we do with their students?"

In a related development, Cortines sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a letter Monday asking him to reconsider requiring state employees to take two unpaid furlough days a month starting in February.

Because state workers participate in the district's building program, Cortines said the furlough days would delay school construction efforts and affect the local economy; the district's building program uses about 240,000 workers, including non-district employees.

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jason.song@latimes.com

howard.blume@latimes.com

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