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L.A. Unified Supt. Deasy unveils new budget proposal

StudentsBusinessFinanceJohn DeasyBudgets and BudgetingLos Angeles Unified School District

Buoyed by rising state funding, the Los Angeles Unified School District's draft budget proposal for the new fiscal year is the healthiest spending plan in years.

The general fund would increase from $6.2 billion to $6.8 bill under the proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins July 1, officials said. The state’s improving economy and higher taxes are major factors for the increase.

But L.A. Unified also will receive additional dollars through the state’s new funding formula for every student who falls into one or more of three categories: foster youth, students learning English and students from low-income families.

The funds generated by these students are supposed to go to services that benefit them under the new system developed by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature.

One example in L.A. is a foster youth support system that would grow from three to 75 full-time positions.

“I am proud and pleased to propose new investments that bring justice to our youth,” Supt. John Deasy wrote in a memo Thursday to the Board of Education. “However, it does not resolve all problems or desires for all new programs, restorations or opportunities.”

During the recent recession, the nation's second-largest school system laid off thousands of employees.

As part of the new budget process, L.A. Unified must show in writing how its spending plan would especially help the three special categories of students. The district also must report how the effectiveness of these efforts will be measured.

Deasy’s proposal also calls for a modest reduction in class size. For example, math and English classes would be reduced by two students in 8th grade and 9th grade. For 8th grade math, that could mean classes shrinking from about 34 to about 32 students. Over three years, a two-student reduction also will occur for other middle and high school grades.

Among other particulars, Deasy would like to return part-time library aides to elementary schools and gradually restore middle school librarians.

“Mr. Deasy takes a huge step forward, aiming fresh funding to schools that serve the most disadvantaged families in order to close  achievement gaps,” said UC Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller, after reviewing the proposal.

Statewide, there’s been some concern about whether the new, designated dollars truly would go to benefit the students with the greatest needs. Some advocates said they would oppose using these funds, for example, to pay down debt or for an across-the-board salary hike.

Fuller noted one area of possible concern with Deasy’s budget. He said his preliminary review suggested that Deasy’s proposal uses the new funds, in part, to pay for already existing district programs that had been paid for through other sources.

"It's unclear whether this meets the letter or spirit of Gov. Brown's finance reform," Fuller said.

L.A. Unified’s budget proposal incorporates an anticipated raise for employees, but Deasy declined to say Friday how much salaries would rise. The teachers union has asked for a 17% raise, but hasn’t specified the period of time over which that raise should occur.

The school board will take up the budget proposal Tuesday. A final version is not likely to be approved before June. 

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Twitter: @howardblume | howard.blume@latimes.com

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