LAUSD looks for funding after Measure E doesn't garner enough votes

Students watch teachers, parents and students chanting slogans on a picket line outside Crenshaw High School to protest teacher layoffs planned by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in Los Angeles on May 15, 2009.
Students watch teachers, parents and students chanting slogans on a picket line outside Crenshaw High School to protest teacher layoffs planned by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in Los Angeles on May 15, 2009. Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District were looking to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., today in hopes of securing more funding for schools, now that voters rejected a proposed $100 parcel tax.

Measure E was supported by more than half of voters during Tuesday's election, but it required a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

"If Measure E required a simple majority to pass, we would be celebrating right now,'' LAUSD Board of Education President Monica Garcia and and board member Steve Zimmer said in a joint statement. "The two-thirds requirement, however, proved too high of a threshold in such uncertain economic
times.

"LAUSD students did not create our budget crisis and they cannot afford to be its victims,'' according to the statement. "That's why we woke up early this morning, rolled up our sleeves and began the work on new fronts to generate revenue for LAUSD.''

According to Garcia and Zimmer, the district was pushing federal legislators to pass a $23 billion proposal that would save 300,000 teaching positions across the country. About $2.8 billion would come to California, with $225 million to the LAUSD, they said.

They also said they were backing Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, in his push for a $3.8 billion state repayment to local school districts.

"We all know how fractious and difficult the budget process is, so we must remain attentive and agile to make sure this initiative remains intact,'' they said. ``The support Measure E enjoyed shows our state and federal legislators that the public does support full funding for education. We cannot
back down.''

Measure E would have imposed a $100 levy on each piece of taxable real property within the LAUSD boundaries, regardless of value.

The assessment would have been added to the county tax bill for each affected property. For example, a person who pays property taxes on two pieces of property would have paid $100 on each bill. The LAUSD covers 710 square miles, including the bulk of the city of Los Angeles and all or part of a variety of other cities in Los Angeles County.

The proposed tax would have raised about $92.5 million a year, and would have been in place for four years. It included an exemption for low-income seniors.

The LAUSD is expected to be facing about a $640 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year.

When the Board of Education voted to place the item on the ballot, board member Richard Vladovic conceded that the tax would not be a solution to the LAUSD's financial troubles, but he said it was a step in the right direction.

"What we're trying to do right now, as they taught me in the Army, stop the bleeding first,'' he said. "That's all it's going to do. It's not going to make the person well. It's going to stop the bleeding so we don't have the chaos of a county takeover or a state takeover.''

Board member Tamar Galatzan voted against the proposal, saying it would raise a relatively small amount of money and would barely amount to a "Band-Aid'' that would do little to cure the district's overall budget woes.

"Now is the time to look at every single program, look at how it's funded, why it's funded, who benefits from it, get rid of the ones that don't work and change the ones where the funding mechanism just isn't benefiting our students,'' Galatzan said. "We as a board need to do all of that work first.''

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association also opposed the measure, noting in a ballot argument that it would have been the sixth time the district has raised taxes in the last 13 years.

"Don't let the LAUSD bureaucrats take advantage of taxpayers again,'' association President Jon Coupal and secretary Trevor Grimm wrote in the ballot argument. "Tell them to shape up and do a better job of managing the billions of dollars they already are getting from us.''

But in an argument in favor of the measure, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines and four other education officials noted that schools "face a serious crisis.''

"Local and statewide budget cuts are damaging our schools' ability to provide a higher-quality education for students,'' they wrote. "Over the past two years, the state Legislature has cut $1.3 billion from local schools, and is expected to cut several hundred million dollars more. In total, these
unprecedented cuts will have forced our schools to lose more than 8,000 essential school employees, including 4,000 teachers.''

KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez contributed audio to this report.

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