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Union prez: LA Unified is 'asking the recession to last a year longer in LA'

UTLA President Warren Fletcher speaks with reporters at the California Market Center in downtown Los Angeles on the first day of layoff hearings. (April 16, 2012)
UTLA President Warren Fletcher speaks with reporters at the California Market Center in downtown Los Angeles on the first day of layoff hearings. (April 16, 2012)
Tami Abdollah / KPCC

L.A. Unified has overreacted to its budget problems and has been "excessive" in issuing 9,500 preliminary pink slips to teachers, librarians, nurses, and school counselors, said UTLA President Warren Fletcher today.

Fletcher, who made an appearance at the California Market Center downtown today for the start of the first day of "RIF hearings," criticized the district for its cuts to arts, adult and early education. He said many of the teachers at the hearing were ones who taught those subjects.

He called the process "stressful and sometimes humiliating" and unfair to teachers, who have to take a personal day to attend the hearings. No spokesperson for L.A. Unified was available for comment.

Fletcher said the union understands that L.A. Unified is experiencing a difficult budget year, with a $390 million shortfall and a changing state budget picture, but he said reaching for preliminary pink slips was not the way to respond.

"UTLA is ready to discuss the hard questions about the budget, but we're not going to do it if LAUSD's first response is let's issue 9,500 pink slips to one-fourth the educators," Fletcher said. "It's not responsible and it doesn't respect the kids, the parents, and the communities of L.A."

The L.A. Unified Board of Education approved an updated 2012 budget plan in March that, without union concessions, includes major cuts to adult and early education as well as elementary arts programs. The plan provides no funding for its winning Academic Decathlon program, marching band and outdoor education.

Many of the teachers present Monday were adult education teachers, Fletcher said. The district's budget plan calls for an elimination of adult education as it is traditionally conceived, with only a segment remaining intact for high schoolers in the Regional Occupation Program. About 250,000 people are currently served by the program.

"When you cut adult education, when you close down LAUSD's adult education program, which is the largest and most successful job retraining program in the western United States," Fletcher said. "It's like asking the recession to last a year longer in L.A. It's foolish, it's very foolish."

At the board meeting Fletcher argued the district should use the additional $180.5 million it had in additional funds since its initial $557 million shortfall estimate to rescind preliminary pink slip notices now. He said going through the RIF and hearing process "destabilizes schools" and takes teachers out of the classroom and away from their kids.

Fletcher said UTLA has "had some success" working with the district to identify certain funds that could be redirected to the classroom. "Yet here we sit," said Fletcher Monday in the hearing hall.

"We want the school board and superintendent to have gone through every possible funding source until we can be sure the cupboard is bare," Fletcher said.

The hearings are expected to last through June.

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