Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

LAUSD budget shortfall: $543 million and thousands could be laid off

A school bus drives by on Oct. 8, 2008 in Los Angeles.
A school bus drives by on Oct. 8, 2008 in Los Angeles.
David McNew/Getty Images
A school bus drives by on Oct. 8, 2008 in Los Angeles.
John Deasy, head of the Los Angeles Unified School District
Nick Ut/AP

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy painted a stark budget picture at today's first board meeting of the year — a $543 million budget shortfall for the next academic year, plus the possibility that thousands of employees could face layoffs, whole school programs could be cut, and months of school could be lost.

"Quite simply we've reached the point where there is not a single solitary thing in this budget that can and should be reduced," Deasy said. "I actually believe, at this point, that the rights of youth are completely imperiled, if not outright violated, by the continued cuts in public education in the state of California."

At Tuesday's board meeting, Deasy's presentation went from dark to depressing, as he outlined the possible scenarios the nation's second-largest district faces, depending on whether an initiative to raise taxes that the governor is trying to put on the November ballot is approved by voters.

If tax increases are approved, under the governor's proposed 2012 budget, the district would receive about $237 million in state funding, Deasy said. If not, K-12 education would be cut by $4.8 billion.

In the last four years, the LAUSD budget has been cut by about $2 billion. (The district has already lost about $38 million in transportation funding in the middle of this past budget year due to cuts triggered by lower than expected tax revenues.)

Yet, even if the tax measure is ultimately approved, Deasy said it is unclear how the money would come to the district — whether it would be in the form of cash or deferral payments, essentially IOUs. Deasy told board members there are "indications" the district would receive IOUs.

"If it is in the form of deferrals and not cash, the $237 million becomes a cut on top of the $543 million," Deasy said.

Deasy suggested to the board the possibility of putting a parcel tax before voters on the November ballot to help raise revenue for schools. If the board approves such a measure (with a simple 4-member majority vote), it would go to the county for certification and then onto the ballot. A parcel tax that asked voters to pay $100 for four years to raise about $92.5 million annually for schools was defeated in 2010. "Kids deserve what we had, and no worse," Deasy said to board members at Tuesday's meeting.

The superintendent made his comments to a hushed room, and public comment immediately afterward was subdued. Board members appeared in a bit of a daze after Deasy finished speaking. Board member Richard Vladovic responded to the superintendent's budget presentation with emotion about the potential cuts, and possible loss of thousands of jobs.

"We have no choice, we're the middle man, we're the person in the middle," Vladovic said. "The state sends us the money, and we send it down." He said that roughly 85 to 90 percent of the district's $2 billion in cuts over the last four years "represent a human body that interacts with a child."

Vladovic and board member Steve Zimmer both expressed support for a parcel tax.

"We have a solution, flimsy as it is, it's going to cost [something like] a $1 a day," Vladovic said. "Heck, they just raised gas in the last two weeks by 70 cents."

The problem is, even with another tax going before voters, none of these measures would be approved or defeated until well into the school year. How does a district budget for money that may or may not exist? Deasy said officials will have to decide which programs are funded and which aren't, and that ultimately means they will be deciding whether or not to fund the people that support these programs too. 

Deasy said he will be submitting a plan that looks at streamlining and centralizing administrative duties "so maximum dollars...and what pathetic few the state has chosen to give to students can be sent to classrooms, while maintaining the best skeleton [staff] we can."

In 2007-8, prior to these cuts and the economic recession, California was already ranked 43rd in the nation on resources it spent per student, Deasy told board members.

He said it was important to inform the public about what might happen if the tax measures do not pass. Second semester of next year, officials would have to end programs, reschedule every school in the district, people would lose their jobs, and whole programs would end, Deasy told board members.

"We have a plan, and that plan is, let us tell the public what are the consequences of what's occurring..." Vladovic said after Deasy's presentation. Almost as a warning, he intoned: "So goes the schools so goes our quality of life. So goes our children, so goes our businesses. So goes our schools, so goes our living standards."

Deasy said he will be presenting the budget to the board and the public in more detail in the next three weeks and would have more clarity on the impact of the governor's proposed budget.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email or on Twitter @LATams.

I spoke with KPCC's Steve Julian about LAUSD Supt. John Deasy's budget presentation and what all these figures really mean to you. Listen here: