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Deasy's proposed budget includes 1,200 new staff positions

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Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy on Friday proposed spending nearly half of the district's new targeted state money on special education next year - but that's not an increase in the program, rather a recalibrating of where the funds are coming from.

The proposal is part of his recommendations for the district's $6.8 billion budget, a $332 million increase over the current year's budget. It must be approved by the school board, which will begin budget discussions Tuesday.

New state law allocated $837 million to L.A. Unified next year towards the education of students who fall into at least one of California's new categories of need: low income, English language learners and foster youth. That's about 80 percent of L.A. Unified's students.

Over half of the targeted funds - what the law calls supplemental and concentration funding - would go to special education - but that $450 million is not an increase in district's special education budget from this year.

"I think we've proposed some investments that are absolutely in line with the technical part of the law," Deasy said at a press conference at district headquarters Friday afternoon.

A portion of the remaining $387 million would go to hire 1,200 new teaching and support positions. But Deasy proposes allowing the central office, not school principals, to dictate which schools get which placements.

"You just can’t say at the moment, well, I wanted a different position," Deasy said.

Under Deasy's staffing plan, the district's more than 8,000 foster students would get 60 new counselors, for a student-counselor ratio of of well over 100-to-1. 

At $35 million, funds for targeted English language learner support, such as coaches and dual language programs, would stay the same as the current school year. So, too, would the $35 million for early education programs.

Deasy proposes using about $10 million of targeted funds to pay for nearly 100 technology support positions for his iPad program.

Schools would get about 10 percent of targeted funds in cash, which principals could use for a variety of programs.

Earlier this year, Deasy advocated for giving principals more leeway in spending decisions, at a time when the state board of education was weighing if they should strictly guide how districts spent the new money.

"School communities know their students best," Deasy told a group of education advocates in January. "They should have the maximum autonomy about how to spend that within the right parameters.”

Deasy said Friday he is still committed to the idea, but said it would take a couple years to develop such parameters. 

The United Way of Los Angeles has brought many community groups together around the issue in the past several weeks, demanding principals have autonomy in spending dollars meant for their high need students.

Some of the additional money coming to the school system will be used to begin to restore school libraries. But the 15 new middle school librarians Deasy proposes, while doubling their ranks, won't come close to opening all 84 middle school libraries.

District officials said they'd allocate staff to the neediest schools first, and many may not get any new positions next year.

The teachers' union has advocated that staffing be restored at all schools to pre-recession levels. Opponents to that approach say it wouldn't target high needs students as the state's new funding law intended.

Overall, almost all schools can expect more resources next year. But because of targeted funding, district officials estimate about dozen schools with very few high needs students will get less.