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L.A. Unified board approves final budget

Members bridge a $408-million shortfall with pay cuts and the layoffs of about 3,000 people, including some teachers. Officials say they could face a $629-million shortfall next year.

July 01, 2011|By Jason Song and Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • Cliff Ker, L.A. Unified's Academic Decathlon coordinator since 2000, will split his duties next year between the decathlon and working as an assistant principal at Bell High School.
Cliff Ker, L.A. Unified's Academic Decathlon coordinator since… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles Board of Education approved its final budget Thursday, bridging a multimillion-dollar deficit in the state's largest school district with pay cuts and the layoffs of about 3,000 people, including some teachers, counselors and office workers.

The board had to close a nearly $408-million shortfall. Members said they had no choice but to order the cuts because of declining revenue from the state and federal governments. The general fund is about $7 billion.

"It is criminal what we are doing at the state level … but I know it's the best budget we can have at this moment," said board member Steve Zimmer, who voted for the budget.

Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte cast the only dissenting vote on the seven-member board.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget Thursday, but it is unclear how much revenue the district will receive. Los Angeles Unified officials had earlier reached agreements with most of its employee unions to take furlough days to save money. Officials achieved the rest of the savings by cutting some programs, shifting money from some accounts to the general fund and other moves.

District officials said next year's budget also looks daunting and estimated that they could face a $629-million shortfall next fiscal year.

School districts throughout California have been forced to shorten the school year, close campuses, and lay off teachers and other employees to balance their budgets.

"As poor a job as the state does in supporting schools, it would have been worse" without union cooperation, L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said.

Depending on how much money the district receives from the state, union members could take more or less unpaid time off.

District and union officials said they hoped to eventually rehire many employees who were laid off, but they said that some positions would be eliminated because the federal stimulus money that funded them has expired.

Parents and students have rallied to protect jobs at schools. At board meetings, they have argued that the cuts are short-sighted and will hurt schools at a time when teachers and administrators are under pressure to boost student achievement.

Critics also said the cuts would make schools unsafe and chaotic because the campuses could not operate smoothly with fewer employees.

More than 55% of the district's office workers have been laid off since 2008, said Connie Moreno, a representative of the California School Employees Assn., one of the unions that did not agree to furlough days.

"How do you imagine the schools are going to function?" Moreno asked board members.

Deasy and others have said that they tried to strike a deal with the office workers union. But Moreno said the district did not negotiate in good faith and was unwilling to compromise.

The district's successful Academic Decathlon program is among those being cut. The program's coordinator, Cliff Ker, has been reassigned to work half-time as an assistant principal at Bell High School, while continuing to oversee the decathlon program, district officials said.

The stipend that Academic Decathlon coaches receive will also be reduced. Previously, coaches were paid about $2,800 for the fall semester and $2,600 for the spring. For the upcoming school year, coaches will receive only the fall stipend.

L.A. Unified has the best Academic Decathlon program in the nation, winning far more national titles than any other district — a total of 12. Granada Hills Charter High School took home the top prize this year.

Jan Davis, administrative coordinator for secondary education, said that shifting Ker and cutting the coaches' stipends were necessary.

She said the district will continue to sponsor Saturday workshop sessions and pay retired district employees to work with teams.

But Ker worries that the decathlon's winning tradition may be compromised.

"I see this as another obstacle," Ker said, "but this might be an obstacle I can't overcome."

jason.song@latimes.com

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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