LAUSD board OKs $7.8-billion budget that includes hundreds of layoffs

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday approved a $7.8-billion budget for the nation's second-largest school system that includes the first pay raises in nearly a decade, including 10% for teachers and administrators, but also will result in the layoffs of hundreds of staff.

The budget reflects an $850-million increase over last year, the biggest gain since before the latest recession. Even so, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines warned that the spending plan is tenuously balanced for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"There are no more presents under the Christmas tree," Cortines said, while also expressing hope that additional state funds might allow the district to rehire many employees.

Hardest hit was adult education, which absorbed 261 teacher layoffs, about 20% of a program that already had suffered steep cuts in recent years. L.A. Unified laid off or reassigned the 21 teachers who provided classes for adults with disabilities and the 18 who provided classes for seniors. Also cut were 25 teachers who taught parenting classes, 85 who worked with adults learning English and 10 who taught academic subjects in the adult program.

Ninety-four teachers in elementary and secondary schools also are losing their jobs.

Former school board member David Tokofsky, a consultant for the administrators union, accused the district of being shortsighted, noting that the layoffs included math teachers, a subject that needs teachers. He predicted that those instructors would ultimately be offered jobs again. In the meantime, he added, they'd be without health benefits for the summer — and tempted to take positions with other school systems.

The final budget and the contract settlements that preceded them caused disagreements within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Some senior administrators concluded that the contract settlements were more than the district could afford.

The 10% pay boost takes effect over the first two years of a three-year contract. L.A. Unified also agreed to maintain health benefits at about current levels for three years.

Other factors also eroded the surge in state funding, including a state requirement that the district contribute more to underfunded pension plans. Enrollment also has declined, leaving the district overstaffed, officials said.

Cortines said the budget is a calculated risk, noting, for example, that he relied this year on one-time funding to help pay for salary increases that will be ongoing.

The superintendent, who is 82, also added an unscripted comment, suggesting that he might remain only six more months, although his contract runs one more year.

(The veteran superintendent returned to L.A. Unified in October, after predecessor John Deasy resigned under pressure.)

In a show of solidarity with Cortines, the board unanimously approved the budget. Board President Richard Vladovic, however, cast a symbolic vote against the layoffs. The board narrowly approved a proposal by board member Steve Zimmer to explore whether the district could cover health benefits over the summer for laid-off teachers.

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly estimated that doing so would cost $1 million. The board stopped short of ordering Cortines to make such a budget adjustment.

Other notable parts of the spending plan included more money to help students pass college-prep classes that will be required for graduation and for an effort to expand dual-language and magnet programs.

Earlier budget estimates had anticipated more layoffs than actually will occur, but that's little consolation for adult school teacher Kathleen Garske-Kaloper, who was laid off in 2012 after teaching continuously since 1994. She was rehired full-time only a year ago.

"I've been living under constant stress for the last three years," said Garske-Kaloper, who teaches students not yet fluent in English. "I've been fighting to do something I love. It's like you're a day laborer waiting on someone to call on you for work. It's nerve-racking. It's ridiculous."

A possible later infusion of state money could allow many adult school teachers to be rehired by October, but these dollars are not guaranteed, officials said.

Another casualty of the budget was a well-regarded program for preschool children. It was replaced with a different one, officials said, that is more likely to have future funding from the state. It was a better outcome for early education than many advocates had feared.

Instructors were not the only casualties of layoffs. As many as 570 nonteaching full- or part-time employees could lose positions by mid-August, although the toll could be substantially less. These include computer specialists, teaching aides, secretaries, campus security aides and library specialists. There are about 30,000 district employees in those areas.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

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