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Special Board Meeting Not So Special After All

Hillel Aron | June 4, 2013

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UTLA President Warren Fletcher speaking to the School Board

UTLA President Warren Fletcher speaking to the School Board

There was an air of excitement surrounding today’s special Board meeting to discuss LAUSD’s budget, resulting in no less than four television crews in addition to KNX radio and three (count ’em!) education reporters live-tweeting the proceedings.

The cause of all the excitement?  The expected clash between Board members who want LAUSD to rehire teachers and reduce class sizes — included among them Board Member Bennett Kayser, who requested the added meeting — and other Board members like Tamar Galatzan who would prefer to revamp how funds are disbursed among schools (and Superintendent John Deasy, who wants to give everyone a raise before doing much rehiring).

Unfortunately, the event turned into something of a dud, filled with familiar budget presentations and predictable pleas for additional funding. There was little real debate over what district priorities should be once revenue from Proposition 30 starts to pour in, and any decision over the shape of things to come will have to wait until the June 18 Board meeting.

Board member Steve Zimmer talking to KCAL 9

Board member Steve Zimmer talking to KCAL 9

First, the Board listened to nearly two hours of presentations going over information that is largely familiar to close observers of LAUSD, if not the Board members themselves.

Most of it focused on the dismal state of school finance in California, which ranks 49 out of 50 in per pupil spending compared to other states.

The rest focused on Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula proposal, which the Board strongly  supports (and would provide LAUSD with an additional $188 million in state funding in the next school year alone).

The public commentary (when individuals address the Board) consisted mostly of various district stakeholders and parents asking for budget cuts made over the last few years to be restored. PE teachers called for the hiring of more PE teachers; Arts teachers called for the restoration of Arts programs; the Administrators union called for more Administrators. You get the idea.

As for what to do with future funding increases, it’s no secret that the School Board is divided on how to spend its expected revenue increase.

Board members Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayser and Dr. Richard Vladovic introduced a motion that would restore LAUSD employment to pre-recession levels.

Teachers union President Warren Fletcher thanked the trio and praised the resolution as a “wonderful first step toward keeping the promise of Proposition 30,” the temporary sales tax passed by California voters in November to fund public education.

Board member Tamar Galatzan, who couldn’t attend today’s meeting (she was in court — part of her other job in the City Attorney’s office), told the Daily News she opposes that motion, and had her own counter-proposal introduced today.

Superintendent John Deasy, meanwhile, favors giving all current employees raises, rather than hiring new employees.

Underlying all of this is LAUSD’s structural deficit, caused by a continued drop in enrollment. Even when you account for the rise in independent charter schools, the number of students attending LA public schools has dropped every year since 2003-04.

Enrollment decline, combined with the recession, is the reason the district has been forced to make such drastic cuts. LAUSD has only been able to close the its deficit in recent years is by dipping into a cash reserve fund that will be exhausted by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Proposal would give more money to districts like LAUSD that have high percentages of English Language Learners, foster kids and students from low-income families.

But even if the proposal passes, the district still faces deficits in the short term — and California funding will still lag behind other states.

“Even if the Local Control Funding Formula passes,” said Dennis Meyers of the California School Board Association, “California would still rank 48th nationally in per pupil spending. We need to start a conversation about what’s next. Proposition 30 is temporary.”

The State budget is due in less than two weeks, on June 15. LAUSD’s budget is due on July 1, and will be voted on during the next Board meeting, on June 18.

Previous posts: School Budget Board MeetingDeasy: Raises & Deficit Reduction Before New HiresConflicting Options at Tomorrow’s Board MeetingBoard to Consider Hiring, Formula Issues

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