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L.A. Unified budget would cut thousands of jobs

School board OKs a preliminary budget that would also close all of the district's adult schools and cut some after-school and arts programs.

March 14, 2012|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • Demonstrators in a crowd of about 500 rally outside the headquarters of the Los Angeles Board of Education, which approved a worst-case preliminary budget plan that would eliminate thousands of jobs, close all the district's adult schools and cut some after-school and arts programs.
Demonstrators in a crowd of about 500 rally outside the headquarters of… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles Board of Education approved a preliminary, worst-case $6-billion budget Tuesday, a plan that would eliminate thousands of jobs, close all of the district's adult schools and cut some after-school and arts programs.

But Supt. John Deasy presented a less severe deficit than initially expected to the board and several scenarios that would restore millions in funding and save some programs from either elimination or partial cuts before the budget is finalized. Much of that, however, is contingent on voters' passing the governor's tax initiative in November, which he hopes would stave off more education cuts.

"I can say that this budget, even with its clear and present dangers, remains a budget of hope," said board member Steve Zimmer. Deasy then interjected, "I don't want to hope, I want to plan."

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

A final version of the budget must be completed by June 30. The L.A. Unified School District, the nation's second-largest, is under pressure to pare more than $390 million from the budget for next year.

Though Deasy presented a rosier financial plan Tuesday than he had a month ago, he stressed that this budget does not present a long-term solution to the district's dire financial outlook in coming years.

"They're all Band-Aids, and that is not the way to run a system," he said.

Last month, the board delayed a vote on a budget plan with similar cuts aimed at bridging a $557-million shortfall. Instead, the board directed Deasy to work with his staff and employee unions to avoid such deep cuts and to consider updated state financial information.

Deasy said the $180-million readjustment of the deficit is the result of a variety of unexpected good news, including the restoration of projected cuts to transportation, higher-than-expected state lottery revenue and a decrease in projected benefits expenditures.

The lower deficit enabled the district to maintain such programs as career and technical training for high school students and busing. It also maintains class sizes in kindergarten through eighth grade.

However, under the plan approved Tuesday, all of the district's adult schools could be closed; and 1,800 teachers, administrators and other employees from those schools could be fired.

The district's early education programs could operate solely on revenue they generate; and funding for GATE, the district's program for gifted and talented students, would be eliminated.

Even the district's perennially dominant Academic Decathlon program would be hit. Despite winning 17 state and 12 national championships, the competition would lose its funding.

Last month, the board approved sending more than 11,700 layoff notices to teachers and support staff. The district has laid off more than 8,000 over the last four years but eventually hired many back.

The decreased deficit could potentially mean fewer layoffs, said Tom Waldman, a district spokesman.

About 500 demonstrators — mostly supporters of adult education, elementary arts and early childhood programs — rallied outside district headquarters. The board room was filled to capacity.

Parent activist Lydia Grant, who participated in the demonstration, said she was not confident that the district would save programs. "The district has never been good at keeping its promises," she said. "I'll believe it when I see it."

During the meeting, Deasy explained that there are several avenues for the district to further reduce the deficit before the budget is finalized. He placed the onus for such action largely on United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union.

Should an arbitration regarding furloughs in this school year be dropped by the union, Deasy said that an additional $60 million would be subtracted from the deficit. Those funds would restore G.E.D and English as a second language classes for about 100,000 of the district's 250,000 adult students. About $27 million of funding would also be distributed directly to schools.

A second scenario would rely on a one-time negotiated agreement between the district and employee unions that could include furloughs, which would result in a $220-million drop in the deficit. Should that happen, adult education would be restored for 200,000 students, early education would serve about the same number of students it currently does and art instruction would be restored at the elementary level, among other things.

"I feel the odds of this are in our favor," Deasy said.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said sacrifices by employees should not be the first solution.

"We have been open to talking about it and have made sacrifices the last three years," he said. "But if the district wants UTLA to say everything is on the table, then the district needs to say that everything is on the table."

The board also voted to approve placing a five-year, $298-per-parcel tax on properties within district boundaries on the November 2012 ballot. LaMotte cast the only dissenting vote.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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