The school board approves $400 million in cuts while avoiding teacher layoffs. But the action also includes forcing employees to take a four-day unpaid leave.
By Jason Song and Howard Blume | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
June 11, 2008
The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to slash about $400 million from the state's largest school system by cutting 507 administrative staff and clerical workers and requiring that all employees take a four-day unpaid leave. The board's action avoids the heavy teacher layoffs and class-size increases that are facing smaller school districts throughout the state.
Based on the current state budget, the Los Angeles Unified School District would have to make more than $700 million in cuts over the next three years, barring restored state funding, and could be forced to pack more students in classrooms after next year, board members said.
"I'm concerned about the viability of doing business on a day-to-day basis" in the future, said Richard Vladovic, one of six board members who voted to approve the budget reductions.
Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte abstained out of concern that programs targeting minority, low-achieving students would be adversely affected.
The cuts are a result of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest proposed budget, which provides a $193-million increase in state education funding over last year but does not provide a cost-of-living increase and does not fully fund certain programs, which will have to be paid for with unrestricted general fund money.
Last week, L.A. Unified estimated that it would still face a nearly $370-million shortfall in its $6-billion budget, but because of lower than expected revenues, the district had to cut $402.5 million Tuesday.
District administrators and board members said they wanted to keep cuts as far from classrooms as possible. As a result, the majority of reductions will come from such actions as reducing payments to injured workers and delaying textbook purchases.
The board voted to eliminate a total of 680 jobs, including 65 math and reading coaches, 19 school nurses and 19 counselors. One hundred and seventy-three of those positions are vacant, and many affected employees have "bumping" rights, meaning they could still be employed but would take pay cuts and displace less senior workers.
District officials did not issue preliminary layoff notices to any teachers earlier in the year, although the district is not legally required to notify probationary teachers that they could be let go. But Roger Buschmann, the district's chief human resources officer, said teachers are safe.
"I do not anticipate releasing any teachers. Zero," he said.
Districts throughout the state, including Santa Ana, San Diego and Rialto, have been issuing preliminary pink slips to balance their books.
The majority of non-classroom jobs targeted for layoffs -- about 240 -- come from the California School Employees Assn., which primarily represents clerical and technical employees.
"Some of the cuts made sense, but the ones in human resources and personnel are going to have devastating effects. . . . There will be a trickle-down effect to schools because people won't know who will answer their questions," said Connie Moreno, a union representative.
Supt. David Brewer acknowledged that "services that matter are being cut."
Three divisions were spared the budget ax, including the Innovation Division, Brewer's signature academic reform initiative.
The school police department will not be trimmed, and neither will the budget of recently hired Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon Cortines, who has made enhancing student safety a top priority.
The board also only trimmed $3 million from the janitorial program, about half the originally proposed amount. "Clean bathrooms were an important thing we needed to preserve," said Chief Financial Officer Megan K. Reilly.
The board also approved a mandatory four-day furlough that would save $54.4 million over the next year. Officials have not worked out details but Cortines said he hoped to target the district's best compensated employees for the unpaid leave program.
"The lowest paid are the ones who can least afford that kind of situation," he said.
United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy vowed to fight any forced unpaid leaves. Over district objections, the union successfully staged an hourlong teacher protest last week during school hours and has threatened to schedule further actions.
"I don't care what they do, they can sell [headquarters] for all I care. If they impose furlough days, we will mobilize against that," he said.
If the district cuts more from their downtown offices on Beaudry Avenue, Duffy said the union would back down.
The board authorized nearly $55.4 million in cuts from central offices.
"That's just not enough," Duffy said.
The board could authorize further cuts this summer. "We've done a lot of shaving," Cortines said. "You can shave to a point where a program is no longer meaningful, which means you might have to look at elimination."
LaMotte said that some of the cuts would unfairly target programs that help minorities, including the Ten Schools Program aimed at the lowest-performing schools mostly in South Los Angeles, and said she was concerned that racism played a role in the decision.
"I hate to put the big 'r' word on the table . . . [but] the darker the skin, the deeper the cuts," said LaMotte, who is African American.
Board member Tamar Galatzan, whose San Fernando Valley district includes some affluent neighborhoods, took issue with the suggestion that schools serving poor students were unfairly targeted.
"This doesn't just have to do with some high-needs schools," Galatzan said. "This is kind of a lose-lose for everybody . . . regardless of the color of your skin and how much money your parents may have."
Brewer headed off a possible argument over whose schools fared worse. "This is a forced budget. Obviously, when a family comes under attack, it's time to pull together, not fall apart."