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LA Unified approves budget plan with major cuts to programs to offset $390 million deficit

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside L.A. Unified headquarters downtown as the board met inside to discuss the district's dire budget picture.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside L.A. Unified headquarters downtown as the board met inside to discuss the district's dire budget picture.
Tami Abdollah / KPCC

The L.A. Unified Board of Education approved an updated 2012 budget plan 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.

As hundreds protested outside, Superintendent John Deasy briefed the school board on how the district plans to offset a $390 million hole in its $6-billion budget given a continually changing budget scenario that may be affected by Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget in May and whether voters approve various tax measures, including a district parcel tax, on the November ballot.

"Everything I've said is only for a year, none of it is ongoing, they are all bandaids, and that is not the way to run a system," Deasy said. "So the ability to have any of these items ongoing and sustainable so we don't sit through this every single year will depend on a revenue source."

Board members voted 6-1 to approve the interim budget plan, in a packed meeting. Marguerite LaMotte cast the sole no vote because she said the numbers were "still too hard." The plan, which maintains current elementary and middle school class sizes, provides for several scenarios where programs would be restored, depending on union concessions.

As it stands, the current plan cuts the 107 early education schools and adult education for the 250,000 people it currently serves.  The plan allows a small segment (46,000 high schoolers in the Regional Occupation Program) to continue their career education, said Jaime Aquino, a deputy superintendent of instruction for the district. The district believes it will receive federal grant dollars to provide some adult ESL and citizenship courses, Aquino said.

"We're worried they're going to say they're continuing adult education, but serve only high school students," said Matthew Kogan, an ESL teacher at Evans Community Adult School and chair of the Adult Education Committee for UTLA. Kogan said the vast majority of the work they do on the Eastside is with adults who speak English as a second language.

"To be fair, this is a work in progress, they often put forward dour budgets as part of a negotiating stance," Kogan said.

In this case, a lot of the budget picture depends on what happens with the unions. UTLA is currently in arbitration with the district on whether it takes six furlough days, and a judge should be ruling on that by mid-April.

District officials say if it wins the arbitration about $60 million would be restored to the budget, allowing for a partial recovery of adult education courses and schools that would serve about 100,000 people. An additional 45,000 (of the current 53,000) people seeking to recover high school credit or gain some basic job training would also be served.

Under this second scenario, 84 of the 107 early education centers would be restored, but the service level would remain the same because of the opening of two new centers by this fall in Glassell Park, Deasy said. The new centers were funded by bond measures. A program for pregnant teenagers would also be restored, Aquino added.

The third scenario is if the district and the various unions are able to negotiate an agreement that would allow for cost-saving measures to the tune of $220 million. In that case, district officials say this would be able to serve 200,000 adult learners and would serve all students seeking high school credit recovery. Under this third scenario almost 90 percent of the district's early childhood reading program would be restored, Aquino said.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the budget news didn't seem as much the good news that Deasy and board members said it was. "It doesn’t look quite yet like it’s good news, maybe good news on the horizon, but we're not there yet," Fletcher said.

Fletcher urged board members to reverse thousands of the more than 11,700 preliminary pink notices it has sent out to district educators based on the additional $180.5 million that brought down the overall deficit to $390 million from the February $557 million estimate.

"To do otherwise means those teachers and those students, and those schools, are going to be treated as budgetary hostages and budgetary bargaining chips," Fletcher said.

Fletcher, who told board members he was a part of the All City Honor Marching Band in 1995, said the district had never sent out more than 10,000 pink slips before.

"That's one-fourth of the district’s educators," Fletcher said. "If you were actually to follow through and finalize those pink slips, obviously you'd destroy this district."

A third interim budget plan is due June 15, and the district's budget will be voted on and finalized by June 30.

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