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12,000 kids will leave LAUSD this year: Los Angeles school board weighs options for how to fill looming financial hole

Mike Szymanski | February 7, 2018

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As LA Unified continues to lose 12,000 students every year, administrators will be notified of expected job losses, restrictions could be made on how to spend one-time funds coming from the state, and labor partners will be called on to be part of the solution.

Next year’s projected enrollment decline was reported Tuesday by Chief Financial Officer Scott Price during a budget update to the school board, which made no decisions on how to offset what equals a loss of about $130 million a year — roughly what the district receives in per-pupil funding for 12,000 students.

He reminded the board of the coming deficit in school year 2020-21, projected at $245 million, and that the board must decide how it will stay out of the red.

Board members discussed various options, including closing schools, and asked for examples of what other school districts are doing to offset deficits.

“The loss of 12,000 students, that’s the equivalent of closing 12 major high schools,” said board Vice President Nick Melvoin. “Are we sending out RIF (reduction in force) notices and pink slips?”

Board President Mónica García said that next week Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian will discuss with the board a plan to send RIF notices to 1,600 administrators. The same number of notices were sent out last year, and in the end, 115 employees lost their administrative jobs but most were reassigned to other positions. The year before, 1,700 notices were given to administrators, but all of them ended up keeping their jobs.

In the past year, the number of administrators has dropped from 2,501 to 2,465 and teachers dropped from 26,558 to 26,046. The number of staff and administrators needs to reflect the declining student population, an Independent Financial Review Panel warned the district just over two years ago. “The district’s loss of 100,000 students would indicate that the district staff would need to be reduced by about 10,000 staff, including administrators, classified and certificated personnel, for a savings of about $500 million per year.”

Last year, Superintendent Michelle King mandated a 30 percent reduction in budgets from all administrative departments.

Ekchian said she will be discussing with the district’s labor partners the loss of enrollment and the need to address the upcoming deficit.

“We will also be working with the labor partners because this is a challenge we all face together, so we will have to come up with solutions together,” Ekchian said.

Price also said that the district will take back up to $100 million in unused money from school budgets at the end of the school year.

Melvoin told Price he understood that the board used to have a policy of using one-time funds solely to pay down liabilities, and he asked the CFO if the board could vote to do that again. Price said they could, adding, “it would be a wise policy.”

Melvoin also noted that giving raises would also cut into the district’s attempt at lowering the projected deficit, which Price confirmed.

Board member Richard Vladovic agreed that something must be done because “the district is hemorrhaging very significantly.”

García pointed to examples such as dual language programs that are attracting families and wanted to make sure they weren’t cut.

“Some places definitely deserve more investment,” García said. “We have to be more public with the choices the board has, and when we choose not to reduce the workforce at the rate of student population, that’s a choice.”

She said the board needs to be more transparent about what choices it has. “If we have a choice to close schools and we don’t, that’s a choice. We have to be really conscious that every Tuesday we are making decisions either making the plate heavier or lightening the load.”

Also Tuesday, in an afternoon closed session, the school board agreed to use the previous search firm to find a new superintendent. The choice will save the district at least $160,000, because a clause in the contract with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates states it will conduct a search “at no additional cost barring expenses” if the superintendent leaves within two years. Michelle King, who is battling cancer, announced her plan to retire just six days before the two-year mark.

The discussions for the superintendent search have so far been mostly in closed session, and late Tuesday García said, “The board is working on an organizing process around hiring a superintendent. This is preliminary work that we need to do.”

García said many school board members have already reached out to stakeholders for input into what they want for a superintendent. “Some of this work will be on their own,” she said. “Some board members will have community forums and focus groups, some have one-on-one conversations. As a group, we reviewed the surveys and information they came up with in the past.”

Some of those forums held across the district yielded disappointing turnout. The district also conducted an online survey.

“There will be an opportunity for electronic feedback, but we haven’t yet figured that out,” García said. “There is good movement forward and good momentum among the board.”


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