L.A. Unified Must Pare $480 Million

Times Staff Writer

In response to the state budget crisis, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Tuesday that it must reduce its spending by $480 million over the next 18 months. Class sizes may grow further, and such programs as magnet schools and adult education are at risk for cuts, officials said.

Within a month, district Supt. Roy Romer is expected to recommend specific ways to trim expenditures by about $240 million for the remainder of this school year. They would be in addition to the $430 million in cuts the school board already has made this year, which resulted in boosting class sizes in upper grades and chopping administrative spending.

"We have a tremendous amount of work to do," Romer said Tuesday. "There will be no expenditures in the next 30 days that will not be critically examined."

At the start of the school year, the district had counted on receiving about $5.3 billion in state funding. But that figure now seems likely to be reduced by $670 million this year and at least $240 million next year.

The board will have to consider more reductions in personnel, administrative offices or campus maintenance, said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Zeronian.

As a result of Gov. Gray Davis' recent budget, proposed cuts in state funding for the Los Angeles district include: $50.9 million from its integration program, which includes magnet schools; $23.1 million from the program that limits class size in kindergarten through third grade to no more than 20 students; $16.3 million from adult education; $10.5 million in academic support for low-income and disadvantaged students; and $8.5 million in pupil transportation.

Zeronian said the district could salvage money for some programs, such as pupil transportation and class size reduction in early grades, if the board decides to replace it with other district funds.

"This school district is probably going to be hit harder than any other school district in the state," Zeronian said. "It's a very sad moment. This is really an exceptionally bad situation we're facing."

Zeronian said L.A. Unified's situation will worsen as enrollment grows, with an estimated 10,000 additional students expected over this year's 736,000.

Last spring, the school board voted to increase class sizes to 40 or more students in many classes in the upper grades, for a savings of $70 million. The Los Angeles teachers union is still fighting that decision, arguing that larger classes burden teachers and hinder learning.

Romer said he has ordered an immediate freeze on any corporate contracts that are up for board approval. He said he hopes all the budget cutting does not harm the district's progress on standardized test scores.

"We need to continue to reform this district. We can't stop it," Romer said. "We need to balance [reform and the budget crisis], and that is going to be hard."

In other school board business, a proposal to create a "code of conduct" for its members was postponed after some critics and board members complained that it was too restrictive.

Board member Marlene Canter, who sponsored the motion, said her intent was to devise a set of professional standards similar to those followed by other government agencies. The code would have required that board members recognize "that the board president is the official voice of the board," and that members make sure that any statements they make to the media or the public represent just their personal opinions.

The motion would require that board members keep private district matters confidential, treat each other with respect, refrain from performing management roles, and notify each other before visiting a school, office or event within another member's district.

Canter said she may offer a revised version in a few months, after budget issues are resolved.

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