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LAUSD board considers final shape of new budget — with deficit lurking

Vanessa Romo | June 17, 2015

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Megan ReillyThe LA Unified board yesterday provided a closer look at how the district plans to spend next year’s $7.1 billion budget, including a windfall of $415 million that is expected to cover ongoing costs and to expand priorities established through community engagement called the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).

The board meeting was the final opportunity for parents, teachers and students to weigh in on the budgeting process. Under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula, school districts are required to solicit community input before they adopt a final budget by July 1.

Over a series of presentations, experts toggled between issuing stern warnings of an impending deficit and touting the district’s successes in meeting its LCAP goals despite a recent report to the contrary.

The district’s Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said skyrocketing pension costs, declining enrollment, growing special education services and the district’s new labor agreements are contributing to a projected shortfall of $333 million in 2017-18.

“I am determined to position the district financially so that we have a balanced three-year budget,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a brief speech, adding that “we must not continue to spend ourselves into deficit.”

He plans to use $218 million in one-time funds — more than half of this year’s infusion of extra money — to help pay for teacher raises next year. But that’s not enough to cover the spending gap in the following year, he said.

Cortines asked the public to brace for harsh cuts that he says will put the district back on track. The final budget he has submitted for approval includes a “fiscal stabilization plan” that could trigger 20 percent cuts district wide.

“We must work on addressing this deficit now,” Cortines said. “If we wait we will be forced to make sever budget cuts, raising class size and central office and department cuts.”

Reilly conceded, however, that the district’s fiscal future may not be quite so bleak.

“The Legislative Analysts Office predicts that [Governor Jerry Brown’s] budget is conservative,” she said. “That there is more money there, but we have to use the numbers the governor gives us,” she said.

Meanwhile, the district is holding up its end of the LCAP bargain by expanding programs aimed at reducing the achievement gap between the lowest performing students, often the poorest, and their more affluent peers, said Pedro Salcido, the district’s legislative liaison.

Investments in services for English learners, foster youth and low-income students is increasing by more than $150 million. Restorative justice and foster youth programs will each get a $1 million boost.

“That money is incredibly meaningful,” Angela Vazquez, a social worker who works with foster youth with the group Youth Law, told LA School Report. The previous budget to serve the district’s 8,000 foster youth students was $4.2 million, which paid for 70 counselors.

“It will significantly reduce those case loads,” Vazquea said, adding that the current ratio is 130 to 1. “Now they’ll be able to spend more meaningful time to do more meaningful work with students.

Another $3.5 million is going toward hiring additional clerical staff and nurses at high schools throughout the district. Middle school math and English class sizes will shrink with the help of $6 million while high schools will receive $7 million to do the same. And English learners will get a little extra help from a $400,000 investment to hire additional English learner coaches although they are also likely to benefit from a $4 million increase that is going to schools for “per pupil targeted support.”

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