Lower enrollment, employee benefits contributing to L.A. Unified's projected deficit

Lower enrollment, employee benefits contributing to L.A. Unified's projected deficit
L.A. Unifiedboard President Steven Zimmer addresses fellow board members with outgoing Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines sitting next to him at anannual meeting at district headquarters in July. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Declining enrollment along with the cost of providing employee benefits and special education services for students are among the key drivers contributing to a projected long-term deficit at the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to an independent financial review panel.

The eight-member panel convened by Supt. Ramon Cortines presented its findings at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. It warned that the district could face a budget deficit of $333 million in the 2017-18 school year, which would grow to $600 million by 2019-20.


The panel's report includes the following findings:

  • The school district has lost nearly 100,000 students in the past six years. About half of those students left to attend charter schools, while the other half resulted from dropouts, lower birth rates and children who transferred to private schools or other districts.

  • Despite the reduction of students and funding, the number of full-time employees has grown at the district from 64,116 in 2013 to 64,348 this year.

  • L.A. Unified spends $2,621 per student on employee health, retiree and pension benefits. The amount is about $700 per student higher than the state average.

  • A majority of teachers are paid between $76,000 and $90,000 annually, a figure that is 10% higher than the state average.

  • Food services have encroached on the district's general fund budget by about $169 million in the past four years.

  • While the district's enrollment has declined, its share of special education students has increased from 11.5% to 13.5% in the last decade.

The panel, which included former state Supt. of Instruction Delaine Eastin and past UC system chief financial officer Peter Taylor, told board members that action was necessary to avoid increasing deficits.

"There's a fiscal cliff that's immediate," said Bill Lockyer, former state attorney general and treasurer. He added that the district must make difficult decisions or it could be forced to lay thousands of teachers and classified workers off.

Recommendations included offering an early retirement plan, improving student and teacher attendance, lowering the cost of providing services for special needs children and reducing staff to reflect decreases in enrollment.

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