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Deasy’s D.C. Trip Yields ‘Less than Positive News’ on Federal Budget

Hillel Aron | September 23, 2013

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Steve Zimmer, left, John Deasy, right

Steve Zimmer, left, John Deasy, right

Superintendent John Deasy and School Board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff flew to Washington D.C. last week, not for a relaxing getaway but to meet with lawmakers to discuss the impact of federal budget cuts is having on the district. Known as “sequestration,” the cuts are costing the district hundreds of millions of dollars in Title I money for school districts with high percentages of low-income students.

The trip was “marked mostly with less than positive news on the fiscal front, for sure,” Deasy told LA School Report today. “There was no evidence whatsoever that the sequester is going to go away.”

As Deasy begins to prepare next year’s budget, he’s faced with a school board that favors hiring more teachers and support staff at a time the electorate has voted to raise taxes to fund public education. In other words, expectations are high. But federal cuts threaten to plunge the district further into debt, even as new money begins to flow from the state.

“Do we take new money and [fill] the hole? It’s going to be a very big dilemma,” said Deasy.

The term sequestration refers to $85 billion in reduced spending per year, scheduled to continue through 2021. The cuts were initially meant as a threat, set to start automatically should Congress not find a way to increase revenue or make targeted cuts. After lawmakers failed to reach a compromise, the sequestration went into effect in March.

Deasy has warned that if sequestration is not ended, LAUSD would face a $350 million budget hole in the current school year.

“I’m very worried about the general direction of support for public education,” he said. “It seems like there isn’t any.”

Deasy said he, Zimmer and Ratliff met with a number of House members, including George Miller a northern California Democrat, and Lucile Roybal Allard, a Democrat who represents parts of east Los Angeles. They also met with the heads of two national teachers unions: National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

According to the LA Daily News, which spoke with Ratliff, Weingarten was “so impressed with local efforts to implement new English and math standards that she asked the superintendent to share the educators’ lesson plans.”

The group also met with senior staff of the Department of Education but not with Secretary Arne Duncan.

The LAUSD trio discussed a number of other subjects while in D.C., including the implications of AB 484, which eliminates the California Standardized Tests and designates the current school year as a sort of dry run for the new Common Core tests. Both Deasy and the Obama administration were upset with state lawmakers for only funding either math or english tests.

Deasy now says LAUSD students will take both tests; the district will most likely cover the costs of the second test. He also said he would try to find some way of using the testing data to gauge student performance – something state lawmakers said was not feasible this year.

“We will attempt to find out if we can provide some level of student performance,” said Deasy.

Ratliff attended a meeting of the Council of the Great City Schools – she was appointed to succeed Zimmer as the district’s liaison to that council by Board President Richard Vladovic. Deasy said it was “very helpful” to have Ratliff in that role. He said that Zimmer was included on the trip because he has “repeatedly built connections on special education funding.”

Zimmer told LA School Report that they also met with LA Unified’s Washington-based lobbyist, the Raben Group.

Previous posts: In DC, Deasy, Ratliff and Zimmer Talk Budget Cut ImpactCoalition Calls on Gov. Brown to Veto Testing Bill, AB 484; Superintendent Deasy Not Happy With Latest Testing BillVladovic Adds Committees, Doles Out Assignments

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