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LAUSD board approves $7.8 billion budget, providing gain and pain

Vanessa Romo | June 24, 2015

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Ramon Cortines Dec. 9, 2014, budgetThe LA Unified school board yesterday approved a $7.8 billion budget that includes raises, pension increases, sustained health benefits, more money for school maintenance and expansion of programs for targeted students that nearly became extinct over the recession years.

But in doing so, the district broke its one-year streak of no layoffs.

Despite an increase of about $850 million over last year, 382 teachers will lose their jobs and several popular programs are being eliminated.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines choked back tears as he detailed how the surplus in funding still leaves the district in a “tenuous” position.

“So many issues, so little time,” Cortines said, breaking down. “But together, we can make progress,” he added, grabbing a tissue.

Among those getting pink slips are 9 psychiatric social workers, 19 foreign language teachers, 27 social studies teachers and 41 math teachers, which the district often has a difficult time hiring due to so few qualified candidates.

Another 227 employees who also received layoff notices earlier this year were spared the axe, including 104 elementary school teachers, 59 counselors, and 54 psychiatric social workers.

“Not only were [layoff notices] rescinded, but we’re going to be hiring about 20 new positions,” Debra Duardo, executive director of the district’s health and human services department told LA School Report. Some of those new hires will include pupil services and attendance counselors and nurses.

Duardo noted that the district often issues layoffs at the end of the school year with the intention of bringing employees back in the fall.

“It’s not that we intend to put people through agony, but we really don’t know what positions and how many schools are going to want to pay for next year,” she said. Until then, the district makes approximations.

Adult education programs suffered the greatest blow. In all 261 teaching positions were slashed, including 89 who teach English as a second language.

“That is really sad for me,” Elena Medina, parent of a district student, told LA School Report. Medina says she has been learning English in district funded adult education classes for the last three years even as services have been shrinking.

“I need to learn English so I can help my daughter in school when she needs help. I want her to be able to ask me questions and understand and help her,”  she added in Spanish.

However, a change in state funding for adult education programs may save many of the positions lost and restore most programs, Cortines told the board. Unofficially, he said, the district expects to receive about $50 million over the next few months.

“If and when we receive that money I intend to restore the adult education programs and serve the 12,000 people on the waiting list,” he said.

Some of the factors contributing to the district’s belt tightening and eating away at the injection of new cash are skyrocketing pensions costs, a 10 percent salary increase for teachers and administrators among other labor groups, years of deferred maintenance and declining enrollment.

“These structural issues are not going away,” board member Steve Zimmer told the board before the members voted unanimously to approve the new budget.

“There was not a single cut that was taken lightly…Because we care so much, these cuts have been agonizing,”  he concluded.

But it wasn’t all agony.

Under the new budget several programs will see a surge in funding, including magnet schools, dual language programs, transitional kindergarten and arts education; and the district will pay for caps and gowns for all graduating students. Foster youth and the “Zero Dropout” program will also benefit from added investments. Schools will have more custodians on campus and the district is spending on districtwide school repairs that have been neglected since the recession hit.

The combination of added expenditures and cuts leave the district with a balanced budget for the next two years but a deficit of $333 million looms on the horizon of 2017-18.

“There are no more presents under the Christmas tree,” Cortines warned. “We need to be prudent and not dig ourselves back into debt.”

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