In Partnership with 74

Cortines says deficit is cutting programs, jobs and teacher raises

Vanessa Romo | February 20, 2015

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Ramon Cortines Dec. 9, 2014LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines had a stern warning today for the LA teachers union as well as for the district, itself:

Not only are teachers not getting the salary increases they have been demanding in the now stalled contract negotiations, he said, but with a remaining budget deficit of $160 million, he has already begun cutting programs for next year. Layoffs, he said, are next.

What’s most likely to be cut? “Everything!” Cortines said. “I have been meeting with all of the divisions to reduce our expenses.”

Cortines’s announcement came in a rare meeting with reporters who cover LA Unified. It was a startling message, given the steady insistence by the teachers union, UTLA, that new state money coming into the district this year would be enough to give teachers a sizable raise after none for nearly eight years.

But Cortines was having none of it: Just hours earlier, he said, he approved a 10 percent cut in a single department although he would not say which one. He also repeated his expectation that LA Unified students will have access to technology but not necessary through the one-to-one program created by former Superintendent John Deasy designed to give every student a laptop or digital tablet.

“As I have stated before publicly, we are committed to providing technology to our children—whether it be desktop computer labs, laptops or tablets—to help prepare them for the 21st century,” Cortines said in a statement hours later issued by the district to amplify his position. “However, as we are reviewing our lessons learned, there must be a balanced approach to spending bond dollars to buy technology when there are so many brick and mortar and other critical facility needs that must be met.”

He continued: “I do think we will need to identify alternative ongoing resources to fund the curriculum that is pre-loaded on some of the devices, which of course is why I believe that currently the District does not have sufficient funds to purchase and maintain technology in a 1:1 model. We must also consider the issue of replacing the devices, along with offering professional development to help teachers infuse technology into their class lessons. We must think and act for the long term.”

Coritnes blamed the budget shortfall on years of what he described as mismanagement and misuse of tax dollars under Deasy. He also rebuked the school board for passing a slew of resolutions without providing funding sources. Recent estimates put the cost of implementing board resolutions at about $42 million.

He acknowledged that the board’s zealotry was due to the ideological friction among members in the absence of cohesive vision for the district, leading each faction to push through pet projects of their own. But now, he said, “I think the board and I have an agreement that we are going to work as partners.”

If the board passes the balanced budget Cortines intends to present, eliminating the deficit, the district will offer far fewer services next year.

Adult education will see some major cuts, he said, insisting that the district should only be concerned with providing English Learner courses, credit recovery programs and a handful of skills acquisitions classes. The School Readiness Development Program, a pre-school type programs for four-year-olds, will also be cut. “It has never been funded,” Cortines said. Ultimately, he expects the county, the city and parks are recreation departments to pick up some of the slack.

But service cuts is only part of the plan.

“I am more interested in people than operating money because people are ongoing expenses,” he explained, but they might not elude changes, as well.

He warned that every department within the district — from the Information Technology Division to teachers — should expect to lose staffing.

The possibility of widespread cuts comes as UTLA and district negotiators have declared an impasse in negotiations, leading them to request the help of a mediator. It is the first official step toward an all out strike by UTLA.

Earlier this week UTLA rejected the district’s most recent offer of a 5 percent salary hike for the current school year and a raise in starting pay for new teachers to $50,000 from $47,000. The district also offered to fund $26 million in class size reductions, a major issue for the teachers union 30,000 members.

But after so many years without a bump in pay and years of acquiescing to furloughs, the union is demanding an 8.5 percent raise. It is also calling for an additional 5,000 teachers to reduce class sizes.

District officials have said meeting UTLA’s demands would cost about $800 million.

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