Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines proposed Friday cutting six days from the school year to help reduce an estimated $640-million deficit and avoid the need for widespread layoffs in the nation's second-largest school system.
The move, announced by news release Friday evening, would save the district $90 million and could spare up to 5,000 jobs, Cortines said. The alternative to this drastic action, he said, would be to let the district go bankrupt.
"Do I think [this] is good education policy? No," he said. "But we are in a real crisis."
Cortines has repeatedly said that he did not want to shorten the school year. This is the first time in recent history that a Los Angeles school superintendent has made such a suggestion.
Five of the affected days would be classroom days and the sixth would be a noninstructional day.
Union leaders would have to agree to the move. Nonunion employees, including senior district staff, have been ordered to take four furlough days by May, and Cortines criticized groups that have not been willing to make concessions.
"I'm tired of the selfish attitudes of some," he said.
Four labor groups have already decided to accept the furlough days, but the teachers and administrators unions have balked so far.
A.J. Duffy, president of the teachers union, said that a one-time shortening of the school year was preferable to a permanent pay cut and that he was willing to "sit down at the table" to discuss taking six days off the school year. "Nobody denies we're in a fiscal crisis," he said.
But Duffy said he still wanted to see evidence that the school district has reduced funding to non-classroom programs.
"We're still waiting for some critical data," he said.
Cortines said the district would hold an all-day meeting next Friday to go over the budget with union members.
"I'm tired of hearing about how we haven't opened our books," he said.
Cortines said that he would be open to cutting six days from next year's school year instead and that the alternative was sending layoff notices to 5,000 teachers and administrators or declaring bankruptcy.
He has also proposed a parcel tax to help fund instruction.
Several school board members said they had heard about the possibility of shortening the calendar but didn't think the move would come so quickly.
"I'm surprised there wasn't more of a discussion," said board member Richard Vladovic.
But he and others said there were no good options at this point.
"I know what this means for kids and families. I also know we're really in a crisis and we have to look at every available flexibility to get us through this crisis," board member Steve Zimmer said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had given school districts the option of shortening the school year to save money, but educators largely rejected the idea on the grounds that students need more time in school, not less.
But school districts around the state are considering the option. Natomas Unified, in the Sacramento area, for example, has cut its school year by five days.
The L.A. Unified board went through several rounds of cuts last year. A budget shortfall of $470 million was expected for this school year but that has increased to $640 million, officials said.