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LAUSD approves $6 billion budget for 2012-13 with $169 million in cuts

LAUSD board protesters

Tami Abdollah / KPCC

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside L.A. Unified headquarters downtown as the board met inside to discuss the district's dire budget picture. (March 2012)

The L.A. Unified Board of Education today overwhelmingly approved a $6 billion budget for 2012-13 with $169 million in cuts that manages to save outdoor education, Academic Decathlon and the after school program, despite hefty cuts to adult education and the layoffs of thousands of educators.

The 6-1 vote, with board member Richard Vladovic voting no, was made reluctantly by board members after about an hour of discussion. Superintendent John Deasy emphasized in a brief presentation that many of the savings were "for one year" and stressed that whether voters approve Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative to raise taxes will "determine the future of most of this."

If the governor's tax initiative fails, L.A. Unified estimates it will have to cut an additional $264 million in 2012-13. Public schools across the state would suffer a nearly $6 billion cut under Brown's budget.

But Deasy said there was no time to discuss "'what if after November,' it’s what must be. We simply have to get that passed so we can have a school year."

The final budget came after months of a changing budget picture that brought hordes of angry protesters, parents and teachers to L.A. Unified's Downtown headquarters.

The district initially unveiled a proposed budget in February that addressed a $557 million estimated shortfall. That figure was later revised down to $390 million after the state Legislature restored transportation funds to schools and the district had higher than expected revenues from the lottery and lower benefits costs.

More than 11,700 educators received preliminary pink slips in March as the district worked to determine what its budget picture would look like. Talks included wholesale eliminations of programs such as adult education and early education.

But savings such as concessions from unions — teachers, administrators and the classified workers union all agreed to take 10 furlough days, effectively shortening the school year by a week — resulted in the lower $169 million cut the board approved today.

Still, under this budget, 3,295 educators will lose their jobs, more than half of those under the adult education program, which is being hit with a $84 million cut, according to district numbers. Cafeteria support will see an $18 million cut, and the school readiness language development program will receive a $9 million cut.

That included trimming $84 million from the Adult Education Division and $9 million from school-readiness classes for young English learners.

Board member Steve Zimmer said this budget avoided "catastrophic" cuts that would have completely changed "public education as we know it in the city of Los Angeles."

But UTLA Secretary David Lyell told members he was concerned about lack of cuts to the central office, which were estimated at $23.6 million in May and ultimately ended as a $4.5 million cut.

"All year long, we've heard about how UTLA members need to sacrifice, and we have," Lyell said. "I've been getting calls from members, there are a few areas of concern where the district isn't sacrificing."

Lyell also questioned increases of tens of millions of dollars in budgeting for general supplies expenditures and instructional materials.

Over the last month district officials have scrambled to find $7 million to prevent the elimination of the after-school care program Beyond the Bell, which serves about 50,000 students from the hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Deasy said today that those funds will come from the $3.9 million that would have been set aside to put the parcel tax on the ballot and other restored funds from the state for early education.

Deasy asked board members to remove the tax from the ballot in order to focus support around the governor's tax initiative in November, which he said is critical for the district's budget.

"We are basically good until election day," he told board members. "And after election day every single solitary assumption in this budget depends on the passage of that" initiative.

Parents and advocates praised the district's effort to save the after school program. Jose Sigala, who heads up the After School Action Coalition, told board members the program provides children with a "safe place to play and learn, but also provides a lot of working families with a sense of relief, where there is a place they can count on to watch their kids in a safe environment." 

Board member Tamar Galatzan, who is a mother of two boys who attend LAUSD schools said she uses the after school program and knows how important it is. She said working to save that program illustrated to her how complex the budget process and system can be.

For example, though some parents found the program so valuable they were willing to pay, the district could not institute a sliding fee schedule under current state law. Charging for the program would have changed its status from drop-in program to child-care program, which would have required staffing and other specific requirements in place. Though schools could apply for state waivers, those would have to be sought and granted individually.

Galatzan said she would be working next year to change state law to allow districts to charge a sliding fee for after-school drop-in programs, to prevent them from being categorized as child care, so that L.A. Unified can keep them open.

"So many of these things in this budget, we're trying to be creative," Galatzan said. "...But frequently there are these barriers that we didn't construct that are put in our way."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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