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Deasy’s revised budget for LAUSD a ‘doggone’ improvement

Vanessa Romo | June 11, 2014

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LAUSD Superintendent John DeasyThe LA Unified Board of Education got one step closer yesterday to approving Superintendent John Deasy’s 2014-15 school budget. And unless the six-member board makes radical changes over the next two weeks, his work, which includes plans for divvying up $332 million in new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) monies, will carry the day.

Passage would signify a major political triumph for Deasy, winning board approval on his version of a near $7 billion budget, eight months after friction with the board left him considering resignation.

As part of the budget, Deasy also presented the board an updated and revised version of the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), a state-mandated action to demonstrate how districts will spend new money from the state for low-income students, foster youth and English language learners.

The new proposal was supposed to be the culmination of months of input from community groups, educators, parents, and students who have expressed their spending preferences at public meetings and board meetings. But it included only minor changes from the initial plan, presented in April.

“The dollars portion of the LCAP haven’t changed; it’s the goals of the plan that have been expanded,” Edgar Zazueta, LA Unified’s chief lobbyist, told LA School Report.

Among the district’s added priorities are increasing student engagement and ensuring that all high school seniors complete the Federal Application for Free Student Aid, or FAFSA. The district will also begin tracking the progress of English language learners and follow the trajectory of students coming out of remedial camps — neither of which has ever been studied by the district.

“These are all initiatives that will take some time to produce results,” Zazueta said. “It’ll be a couple of years before we start seeing the impact of these measures on student outcomes, but that’s why we have to start establishing metrics right away.”

Deasy told the board he is “remarkably proud of this budget,” and congratulated the members of his administrative staff who helped construct it.

“What you have is what we’re able to do with what we’ve gotten,” he told the board.

School board president Richard Vladovic said that although “budgets limit your dreams,” he believed in Deasy’s vision for the future. “It’s not perfect but, doggone it, it’s better than I’ve seen in seven years!” he said.

The only debate regarding LA Unified’s $4.73 billion LCFF budget was over $5.5 million that Deasy wants to shift from the district’s plan to give every student an electronic tablet to providing more services for English learners and Standard English students.

“This trade off doesn’t fundamentally reduce investments we’ve promised but may slow investments we’ve promised,” Deasy said.

The district has purchased sufficient devices for future assessment testing, thereby removing the superintendent’s previous sense of urgency for getting a device into the hands of every student.

He called it a modest but important investment. However, board member Monica Ratliff, who chaired the board’s technology programs committee, disagreed. She proposed diverting some of those funds toward hiring more full-time custodial employees. Board member Bennett Kayser continued his years long quest to add more health classes throughout the district, and he requested expanding programs for homeless students.

The board handed a victory to groups pushing for the so-called Student Need Index. The members approved the “Equity is Justice” resolution that directs Deasy to develop an “equity-based” index that identifies the neediest schools to guide the state’s allocation of new supplemental and concentration funds.

The Index considers the number of foster care students and English language learners at a school, drop out rates, poverty rates, reading levels and environmental health factors to identify which schools suffer from the worst neighborhood learning environments.

Board member Tamar Galatzan cast the lone dissenting vote against the index. She has about 18 schools in high-risk areas of her West San Fernando Valley district where at least three-quarters of their enrollments are comprised of low-income students. She said the index will divert LCFF revenue from those campuses to schools that are deemed needier.

“It’s not fair that because the state changed the funding ratios that they end up with less dollars,” she said of the schools. “Hopefully, this board will say to schools across this district that we are going to set a floor below which no school will fall.”

Immediately following the vote, hundreds of students and community organizers who were leading a demonstration outside district headquarters, rallied in celebration. A dance troupe of about 30 students performed a choreographed routine and they cheered as board member Steve Zimmer, who co-sponsored the resolution, delivered news of their victory.

The board also approved salary increases for 9,000 district employees to offset higher pension costs.

A new state statute requires workers to shoulder 100 percent of their individual contribution to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which many of the labor unions had previously negotiated for the district to pay.

As result, LA Unified is picking up the tab by tacking the cost of the pension contribution increase onto employee paychecks. The raises range from 1.2 percent to 9 percent.

“It was very important for the district and superintendent to make sure the employees were made whole,” said Vivian Ekchian, chief labor negotiator for the district. “Otherwise, it would have been a pay cut for the employees.”

These raises are completely unrelated to the salary increases labor unions are currently negotiating with the district.

Parents and administrators at Citizens of the World Mar Vista demonstrated impressive fortitude, waiting nearly seven hours to address the board. Outfitted in “I love CWC” T-shirts, they pleaded with the board to roll back a decision by the Charter Schools Division to end its co-location at Stoner Avenue Elementary School in Del Rey.


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