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LAUSD teacher negotiations reached gridlock over budget

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines commented Thursday on teacher contract talks that have been ongoing since July.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines commented Thursday on teacher contract talks that have been ongoing since July.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

A budget deficit is preventing the Los Angeles Unified School District from offering teachers more than a 5 percent raise, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said Friday.

"I want some resolution," Cortines told reporters, but he said the district is now projecting a shortfall of $160 million heading into the next school year.

United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing 31,000 teachers, declared an impasse Thursday in the contract negotiations. The two sides have been bargaining since July.

The teachers haven't had a pay increase in eight years, and their salaries are below that of neighboring districts. 

"You are not going to recruit and retain the quality teachers you need," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told KPCC's AirTalk this week. The union is seeking an 8.5 percent raise as well as smaller class sizes, more counselors and nurses, and revised teacher evaluations.

Cortines said the district's pay raise offer of 5 percent, retroactive to July 2014, would help make salaries more competitive. But he said the projected deficit is why LAUSD can't afford more.

Projections for the deficit have changed over the months. Last October, it was $365 million; in January, $88 million; and this month, $160 million. 

Teachers union representatives said California schools are receiving more money this year than any time since the recession. Gov. Jerry Brown's Local Control Funding process, which gives local districts more resources for education, is projected to garner the district $240 million more next school year. 

Cortines said he hopes to reach an agreement and he cautioned against any walkout.

"You talk about a budget deficit? It will exacerbate the budget deficit, because parents have other options," Cortines said. "They can go to other schools, private, parochial schools, they can go to charter schools, etc."

Cortines said a mediator is being called into the talks to help resolve the impasse.

The superintendent also repeated his doubts that the district can currently afford to put a computer in the hands of every district student. The program, a key initiative of his predecessor, John Deasy, used bond funds to pay for iPads and other devices.

Cortines said a statement elaborating on his remarks to reporters that "as we are reviewing our lessons learned, there must be a balanced approach to spending bond dollars to buy technology when there are so many brick and mortar and other critical facility needs that must be met."