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LAUSD approves $7.5 billion budget under cloud of declining enrollment and future cuts

Sarah Favot | June 20, 2017

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The LA Unified school board on Tuesday approved a $7.5 billion budget for the 2017-18 school year even as some board members expressed frustrations about declining enrollment and future cuts that might come as the board faces budget deficits.

Spending has increased from the 2016-17 school year by 6.7 percent, while revenues have declined by 1.1 percent.

The budget that includes a surplus passed with five votes. Richard Vladovic voted against it, and George McKenna abstained. No board member voiced their enthusiastic support.

Vladovic declined to explain why he voted no but said that he had explained to Superintendent Michelle King his reasons for doing so. McKenna said he was concerned about Title 1 funding cuts to schools and that the budget wasn’t addressing the district’s declining enrollment. Title 1 funds are federal dollars that are allocated to schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.

“I am really troubled right now about what I am being asked to support,” McKenna said. “I can’t pick and choose what parts of the budget satisfy me as a board member.”

Some of the Title 1 cuts will likely be restored, but not until February when the federal budget is finalized, budget officials said.

Board President Steve Zimmer said he was in Washington, D.C., on Monday and learned that drastic cuts that were initially proposed to Title 1 funding by the Trump Administration are unlikely, but that there would likely be cuts to Title 2, funds that are used to improve teacher quality.

King and budget officials explained that the budget was built when it looked like there would be more severe cuts to Title 1. The budget assumes the funding will be cut by 16 percent.

Zimmer requested that King come back to the board before the end of the month with a detailed plan on how the funding will be restored to schools.

“We need assurances that schools who worked with us under one understanding will be made whole,” Zimmer said.

Mónica Ratliff encouraged McKenna to support the budget, but he couldn’t be moved.

“This budget has nothing in it that says it will grow enrollment,” McKenna said.

King and budget officials said that declining enrollment, which has resulted in less revenue for the district as state funding is tied to enrollment, and increases to fixed costs like pensions and retiree healthcare benefits have created a structural budget deficit. Enrollment has declined since around 2004 when nearly 750,000 students attended schools in the district as charter schools have grown, birth rates have declined, and families have left LA for other districts. District officials project enrollment will decline by about 10,60 students next year and by another 23,000 students by 2019-20.

“I have confidence, but I still abstain,” McKenna said during roll call.

Although they supported the budget, Zimmer and Ref Rodriguez said they had concerns about plans for fiscal stabilization proposed for the 2019-20 school year, when the district will face a projected $422 million budget deficit. The possibilities include increasing class sizes and closing smaller schools.

But Zimmer and other board members said they were placing their trust in the superintendent.
King reminded board members that the budget puts investments in some of the priorities that the district has committed to, including restorative justice, transitional kindergarten, and arts for all students.

“Yes, we have challenges that have been kind of lobbed into our backyard that some of which all of you have described, but this budget does prioritize the school site. It does. So if you look at the different pieces of what we had to do and I shared with you a little over a year ago that we were going to do everything we could to keep cuts and disruption away from school sites which is what this budget does do,” King said.

The budget includes 180 reassignments mostly of central office administrative positions who will return to the classrooms or schools and 114 layoffs, 30 of which are library aide positions.

Some members of the public, including former board members David Tokofsky and Jackie Goldberg, encouraged the board to lobby Sacramento for more state funding for education.

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