LAUSD notifies 1,600 administrators of potential layoffs: Too little, too late or just a mirage?
Mike Szymanski | February 21, 2017
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Nearly 1,600 LA Unified administrators will be notified in mid-March that their contracts may end in June.
But is this attempt at bringing administrative staff more in line with the declining number of students too late to help a looming budget deficit, as some school board members fear?
Or will there even be a staff reduction? School board President Steve Zimmer said he doubted most of the layoffs will even happen.
Superintendent Michelle King brought the plan to the school board last week to conform with a strong recommendation by an Independent Financial Review Panel that the district reduce the number of administrators. The recommendation more than a year ago stated flatly: “The district’s loss of 100,000 students would indicate that the district staff would need to be reduced by about 10,000 staff, including administrators, classified and certificated personnel, for a savings of about $500 million per year.”
Board member Mónica Ratliff told LA School Report that it has taken too long to begin implementing elements of the financial report. She said, “I do think it has taken too long to start this process, but I can see that she needed to gain the trust and confidence of the personnel community before she made drastic cuts. I’m glad to see Michelle King moving forward.” She agreed with Zimmer that most of the notices will be rescinded.
Board member Mónica García said in an interview, “We need to start looking at the complicated budget issue and this is one way the superintendent is doing it, to put administrators on notice as she has to do legally. It is an evolving situation with Sacramento and Washington and so complicated and we need to make our employees more secure. I respect that the interest is to protect the classroom first and do the most possible to avoid disrupting the classroom.”
King isn’t yet touching principals, assistant principals, deans, counselors, or teachers who have permanent contracts at school sites in this round of notices. In fact, the recommendation is specifically for “all non-school-based certificated administrators, confidential employees, and supervisory employees” but includes all “school-based non-permanent certificated administrators” which could include principals who are not yet permanent at a school site.
The affected administrators include high-level certificated positions in the offices of general counsel, the financial officer, human resources, information officer, police department, facilities program, inspector general, and superintendent’s office. It is possible that those with expiring contracts may have their contracts renewed, or the employees can be reassigned to other positions, according to the proposal that was approved by the board on Feb. 14.
Last year, just after she started as superintendent, King issued similar letters to about 1,700 administrators. However, those notices were rescinded and none of the employees were laid off. The same thing could happen this year, depending on how the budget looks.
“It’s very important to note that March 15 is the deadline to notify employees of possible layoffs and that employees who receive a notice will not necessarily lose their jobs,” said Barbara Jones of LA Unified’s Communications Office. “We will not have financial estimates until after budget development.”
Jones added, “Permanent school-site administrators will not receive notices in keeping with Superintendent King’s desire to maintain stability for our students, families, and school communities.”
The notifications mirror the Reduction in Force, or RIF, notices that for years were handed out to teachers when the last recession prompted severe budget cuts. Those notices were stopped about three years ago and mostly affected art, music, and physical education instructors.
King told the board that the proposal comes directly from the Financial Review Panel’s recommendations and said, “We know we have declining enrollment and a federal impact and other cost drivers such as special education and health and welfare costs, and it is important to note that we must be fiscally responsible and that we did get recommendations on how to do that.”
King had asked that each department report to her what a 30 percent reduction in budget would look like just in case such measures were necessary.
It was surprising to Ratliff and other board members last year when a report showed the administrative staff jumping 22 percent even as enrollment dropped.
“One of the things that we were told (in the panel’s report) was that staffing was not in line with enrollment,” King said. “We have to make hard choices.”
Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly, who is leaving the district in mid-March, is in a position that would also be affected by the notices. She said that although there are dire predictions for the district’s financial stability, there are some positive outlooks. Although the district is experiencing 3 percent declining enrollment, which has resulted in a decrease of $150 million in revenue, Reilly said the district maintains the highest AAA credit rating.
“We have one of the strongest credit ratings you can possibly get, we don’t have mismanagement,” Reilly said. “It is important that we have that rating and have increasing graduation rates and academic performance at the same time. This board and this organization does not look at the budget for one year, but for three years, and have been taking necessary proactive steps.”
However, Reilly noted increased fixed costs that aren’t going down, even if the student population is going down, such as utility costs. She also pointed out increases in payments into CalPERS and CalSTRS retirement funds of nearly $780 million a year while the number of students is declining. Special education costs run about $1.4 billion a year and the district is only compensated for $900 million, and “it would be nice for us to get the dollars from the government” to cover the district’s expenses, Reilly said.
Zimmer asked King directly how confident she was that the district can get through the budget crisis that had been long predicted.
“We are in a complete situation that will require our best selves to come together to make smart, difficult but strategic decisions to support learning in all classrooms,” Zimmer said. He asked King about her experience with the budget over the past eight years. “If we bring our best angels together and work diligently and collaboratively, are you confident that we can get through this?”
King paused and said, “I am. We are united and focused on what we need to do. We understand our priority is protecting the classroom and getting high quality. Collectively, I am confident we can do that.”
In an interview after the board vote, Zimmer said that he has every confidence that King is chipping away at a potential budget deficit but noted that “things are fine this year” and he didn’t expect many of the notices to result in layoffs this year.
After a forum last week, Zimmer’s three opponents running for District 4 also weighed in on the potential administrator layoffs. Gregory Martayan’s campaign platform includes creating a civilian oversight committee to help with budget issues. “We can’t afford to lay off any more people,” Martayan said. “We don’t have the staff to operate what we currently do. We’re already running a skeleton crew.”
Allison Holdorff Polhill said, “I just hope that it’s being done in a careful way where we’re not cutting off our nose to spite our face. If we’re cutting off, for example, special education part-time workers that are valuable in preventing litigation or something like that.”
Nick Melvoin said, “There is going to be a need for certain cost-saving measures. I think some of the things the panel proposed like increasing student attendance, increasing teacher attendance, offering early retirement benefits, automating payroll are things I would do before I started cutting positions and or putting some of these administrators back in schools before I would lay off teachers or lay off even part-time administrators.”
The LA Unified School Board approved the notices in a consent vote without much discussion. Before the final vote, García said she approved it “with great reluctance.” García later said, “I cast that vote with great regret because I wish LAUSD was in a better funding situation for schools.”
Ratliff went along with the consent vote but said to King, “I don’t think we’ve done enough. We are not getting enough money and what we need to start trumpeting is that we are getting less money, and less money is going to hurt the classroom, hurt our employees and our students.”
Sarah Favot contributed to this report.