Beverly Hills School Chief Proposes 25 Teacher Layoffs

Times Staff Writer

Beverly Hills School Supt. Leon Lessinger has proposed laying off teachers, administrators and clerical workers to trim more than $1 million from the budget of the financially troubled school district.

Describing the plan as the "most severe cutback in the history of the school district," the superintendent asked the board Tuesday night to consider the cuts as a first step in combatting a projected deficit of $5.5 million in the district's $25-million 1986 budget.

He said the layoffs and other cuts under consideration could spell an end to the advantages Beverly Hills has held over other school districts in the state--smaller classes, innovative educational programs and high teacher salaries.

"It isn't easy to lay off workers," he said. "It is one of the saddest things that any board and superintendent have to do. You are talking about people's lives and it's devastating. But when 85% of your budget goes to salaries, where else do you cut?"

Lessinger proposed laying off about 25 teachers, for a saving of about $760,000, and one full-time and one part-time administrator for a saving of about $40,000. In addition, he proposed another $200,000 in cuts from clerical and maintenance personnel.

The Board of Education accepted the proposal and asked the superintendent to return in 90 days with a plan to slash an additional $2 million from the budget.

"They want me to take a harder look at cutting administrative and classified staff without touching the educational program," he said, adding that more cuts would reduce the level of service in the district to "the bare bones."

Lessinger's proposal comes a year earlier than expected. The district had counted on receiving $2.4 million from the city through a lease agreement but the money has been tied up for more than a year because questions over the legality of the contributions. City officials are concerned that the money could be viewed as an illegal gift of public funds.

If the city does not give the district any money, Lessinger said the board may ask voters to approve a per-parcel property tax in April. Such a measure would require two-thirds vote for passage.

Kenneth Eaves, president of the Beverly Hills Education Assn., the union representing the teachers, said his "gut level reaction to Lessinger's proposal is that it is a negotiating tactic, it's a scare tactic." The association has been negotiating a new contract with the district since May. The talks have reached an impasse.

"I do not ignore the fact that they are having problems with the city funds and are facing the financial situation a year early," he said, "but it is a scare tactic designed to alarm the troops and weaken the solidarity that we have in our association."

Lessinger said school officials may have a problem convincing the public that it has financial difficulties. "We have a credibility problem," he said.

For years, he said, the district has been projecting huge deficits that never materialized because the shortfalls were always offset by large reserves--at one point estimated to be as high as $10 million. The reserves are expected to run out sometime in 1986.

"Every time anyone mentions the financial problems in Beverly Hills schools it almost brings a smile," he said. "But you can only go on spending more than you earn for so long." He described the next round of cuts as the "Armageddon plan."

Since 1982, the Beverly Hills district has reduced its personnel through attrition by 32 positions, saving close to $1.1 million. But the savings have been offset by losses in funds caused by a districtwide decline in enrollment of about 100 students a year and a drop in revenues from oil drilling on school property.

Despite the layoffs, Lessinger said, the district still enjoys a comfortable advantage over most other school districts.

With one teacher for every 21 students, Beverly Hills has the lowest teacher-to-student ratio of any school district in the county. Beverly Hills teachers are paid an average of $40,000 a year in salary and benefits, Lessinger said.

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