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Budget Stymies School Plan to Ease Crowding : Education: L.A. Unified trustees are forced to postpone for at least a year the final phase of a program to add portable classrooms and institute year-round schedules.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A plan that would have forced 156 elementary, junior and senior high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to make room for a flood of new students by adopting “multi-track” year-round schedules or adding portable classrooms has been postponed for at least a year because of the district’s mounting budget problems.

By general consensus, the school board on Monday agreed that it cannot afford the $41 million that district officials say it would cost to implement next fall the final phase of the district’s controversial three-year plan for the relief of school crowding.

“Our hands are tied this current year. . . . We cannot move forward” with the plan, said board member Mark Slavkin. “The revenues dry up and our options dry up as well.”

The board will take a formal vote on the matter later this month.

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Because of rising expenses and a drop in state funding, the school board has had to reduce the district’s budget by $274 million this year, largely by cutting employees’ salaries, increasing class size and slashing campus spending.

The ambitious plan to relieve overcrowding requires all 414 elementary schools and most of the district’s 121 junior and senior high schools to increase their classroom space by 23% to accommodate more than 100,000 new students who are expected to enroll in district schools by 1996. In the first two years of the program’s implementation, 382 schools have complied by adding bungalow classrooms, increasing class size or adopting multitrack schedules.

The plan, which in its first two years has resulted in an extra 37,500 classroom seats, already has cost the district about $40 million.

Because most of the anticipated enrollment growth will occur in areas where schools are already overcrowded, the district must create space on campuses in outlying neighborhoods and bus the new students to those schools.

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Even though about a third of the district’s 600 schools already operate on multitrack, year-round schedules--which split the student body into three groups, only two of which are on campus at the same time--the district still has to bus 20,000 students away from schools that have no room for them. The number bused is expected to almost triple--to 58,000--by 1995.

The schools that were scheduled to adopt the overcrowding relief measures in the final phase of the plan will now have a reprieve of at least one year while district officials try to find ways to pay for the extra portable classrooms, teachers and support staff that would be required.

“We’re not disbanding the plan, but we are putting it on hold for one year,” said board member Leticia Quezada.

But board member Roberta Weintraub, citing the state’s worsening fiscal crisis, said she thinks it unlikely that the district will be able to fund the plan in time.

“There is no money for it now and there will be no money for it in the future,” said Weintraub.

It would have cost the district $26.5 million to put portable classrooms on campuses next year, and another $14.6 million to convert already crowded schools to the multitrack schedules.

Joyce Peyton, who supervises the district’s campus utilization program, said that the district will have enough seats for new and returning students next year.

“But after that, we will be in great trouble,” she said. “We cannot get beyond (the 1992-93 school year) without creating new seats.”

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Peyton predicted that the district will run out of space for new elementary students by 1997, even if all district schools adopt the multitrack system.

Weintraub predicted that the board eventually must consider more drastic solutions, such as eliminating kindergarten or curtailing special education classes.

In other action, the school board voted unanimously to formally impose a 3% pay cut on district police officers, clerical workers, classroom aides and tradespeople, such as plumbers, electricians and gardeners. All of the district’s 58,000 full-time employees are being forced to take the pay reduction, including administrators, teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors, whose paycuts were ordered by the board two weeks ago.

The paycuts will save the school system $70 million this year. All employees also have been ordered to take unpaid furloughs of two to five days, which will save the district another $30 million.

Teachers’ union members began voting Monday on whether to accept the pay cut, send their negotiators back to the bargaining table or go out on strike Dec. 2. Contract talks between the district and the teachers union have been stalled for months.

The union’s Board of Directors has recommended that teachers support delaying the strike pending further negotiations. The teachers’ votes will be tabulated on Thursday.


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