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LAUSD board rejoices in passing ‘best budget’ in seven years

Vanessa Romo | June 25, 2014

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LAUSD School Board

LAUSD board members Monica Garcia, Tamar Galatzan and Superintendent John Deasy

An extraordinary year for LA Unified came to an extraordinary end yesterday as the school board unanimously approved —  and with minimal debate — its largest budget in seven years.

The six board members played musical chairs congratulating one another and Superintendent John Deasy for a job well done. Members were especially complimentary of the district’s new effort to include input from community members in shaping the final spending plan.

“What a difference a year makes,” board president Richard Vladovic exclaimed, after lamenting the fiscal crisis of recent years that forced billions in cuts. Board member Tamar Galatzan added, “This is the best budget I’ve seen in the seven years I’ve been here.

The happy ending followed a tumultuous school year, in which the district scrambled to meet the requirements of the Governor Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and create a plan justifying spending (LCAP); faced the potential resignation of the superintendent; suffered the death of Marguerite LaMotte, the board’s longest serving member; grappled with arguments over filling the vacated seat; and –finally — approved $6.4 billion in non-Federal dollars from a total budget of $7.27 billion that adds new teachers, librarians and nurses to a formerly decimated payroll.

The budget represents the first since 2007 that does not include cuts from the previous year. Changes to the law added $332 million from the state, increasing LCFF funding to $4.47 billion from $4.13 billion. The state mandates that $837 million of that is applied toward improving the academic achievement of LA Unified’s neediest students — foster youth, English learners and those from low-income households.

To that end, the budget allocates nearly $10 million for the district’s 11,600 foster youth, a “game changer,” said board member Steve Zimmer. Plans include the expansion of Family Source centers, psychiatric counselors and social workers, and extra tutoring services. Another $5 million will pay to place an Instructional coach at each school with a high English learner population. And, Deasy has pledged to funnel more money to the district’s poorest and highest needs campuses by establishing the Student Need Index, a new metric for determining how the money should be spent.

In general, parents, students and community leaders applauded the scope of the budget and investment in new programs.  Zimmer said the level of community engagement “is a sea change for how we do budgets for this district.”

Unanimity on the budget appeared tenuous during a brief discussion about spending on the arts. Board member Monica Ratliff said in a meeting last week she could not support a final budget unless district officials provided the board with a detailed arts instruction plan for next year. They did not.

However, consensus was assured when Deasy agreed to submit a revised plan for arts education and funding to the board in August. It would entail “a detailed budget showing how much more money would be required to expand [arts instruction] beyond the proposed 9 week rotation … to semester rotations and full year rotations.” It would also establish the creation of an Arts Equity Index, indicating access to comprehensive arts education throughout the district.

“This gets our students far more than I expected,” Ratliff told LA School Report after the meeting.

Deasy said he “could not be more proud” of the approved spending plan before adding, “We’re still woefully, woefully inadequately funded compared with the rest of the country. We have an overwhelming amount of schools in tremendous need. At the end of the implementation of LCFF [in 2017], we’re not even going to be where we were in 2007.”

Conspicuously absent from the approved spending plan are raises for several labor unions including SEIU Local 99, the school workers union; and UTLA, which represents 30,000 teachers and human services employees.

Bargaining sessions are underway between the district and both groups.

The district has offered UTLA a 2 percent raise for 2014-15 with a 2 percent bonus for the school year that just ended. The union is demanding a 17.6 percent increase over an unspecified number of years.

In appearing before the board, UTLA’s in-coming president Alex Caputo-Pearl argued, as he has for months, that the district needs to reduce class size by hiring more teachers, restore the cuts from recent years and find a new approach to the “housing teacher” policy, which he called “destabilizing to communities and destabilizing to schools.”

He told the board members that restoring cuts by eight percent and adding in cost of living raises “is not radical crazy.”

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