LA Unified school board approves layoffs, budget cuts

Teachers and supporters attend a meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education in April.
Teachers and supporters attend a meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education in April.
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On a 5-2 vote on Tuesday the Los Angeles Unified school board approved more than a billion and a half dollars in budget cuts for the next several years. The cuts include the layoff, effective next week, of more than 4,000 employees, more than half of those teachers. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: About a dozen addressed the school board before the vote. The cuts include raising class sizes from two to four students in middle and high schools. Teachers union official Julie Washington told members that’s unacceptable.

Julie Washington: How can you expect an 11th grade English teacher to adequately prepare 43 students per class to get ready for college? How can you expect counselors already on overload to adequately counsel an additional 150 students?

Guzman-Lopez: Superintendent Ramon Cortines crafted the budget cuts to address a massive state funding deficit. He’s said that the cuts wouldn’t be as severe if district labor unions agreed to pay cuts and furloughs. He told the board nothing’s come out of those talks as of now. And that can’t continue.

Ramon Cortines: I want to be clear that if we do not have shared commitments from bargaining units and a parcel tax, we will have to reduce critical programs all across the district.

Guzman-Lopez: L.A. Unified’s the second largest school district in the country. Its fiscal woes are largely the result of the weak economy. Before approving the cuts Board President Monica Garcia suggested national leaders pay attention.

Monica Garcia: Today were are approving a budget that is asking us to call on Washington to invest in education in new ways and to support California in some kind of bailout because we cannot face the next two years in without support.

Guzman-Lopez: The two votes against the cuts came from board members Margueritte Poindexter LaMotte and Julie Korenstein. A protester kept Board President Garcia from moving quickly on to the next agenda item.

[Protester yelling from the audience]

Guzman-Lopez: The budget cuts vote comes after moths of escalating protests by teachers and students that included rallies, hunger strikes, and teacher arrests for civil disobedience.

Lincoln High School English teacher Sean Leys wasn’t shocked by news of the vote. He fasted for three weeks to push the school board to rescind teacher layoffs. He achieved his short term goal, he said, because the school district had initially proposed laying off 6,000 teachers.

Sean Leys: Our long term goals are still to reframe this debate around education as a civil right, to look at what’s going to have to happen over the next three years in terms of the budget, to set a tone and to hopefully build a movement.

Guzman-Lopez: Teachers union leaders said they’re undeterred by the vote and plan to hold board members accountable for their yes votes. They’re not saying who, but they say they plan to file a recall election in the coming months.