Schools Face $78 Million More in Cuts

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Unified School District is considering cutting its spending by an additional $78 million this academic year, reducing expenses on such things as computer technology, textbook purchases, teacher performance reviews, central administration and some adult and intersession programs.

"You cut where the money is," said Joseph Zeronian, the district's chief financial officer, who presented the proposed cuts to the school system's $10-billion overall budget during Tuesday's board meeting. "The difficulty is that most of our expenses are in those school buildings."

Prompted by the state's budget shortfall, the proposed cuts would come on top of $425 million in reductions that the Los Angeles district has already made in this year's spending. Those cuts resulted in class sizes being increased in fourth through 12th grades. The board also chopped administrative offices and limited campus maintenance.

About $52 million of the additional proposed cuts would be felt at the campus level, and $26 million would come from administrative offices and other non-campus expenses, Zeronian said. There would be no midyear layoffs, but some are likely next year, he said.

Tuesday's proposed cuts represent less than 1% of campus' general fund budgets, Zeronian said, while proposed reductions to central and local administration make up 4% to 5% of their general fund budgets, he said.

Board members are expected to vote on the proposed reductions in two weeks.

L.A. Unified is facing a remaining $17-million shortfall for 2002-03, but Tuesday's proposed cuts were more than four times that amount because district officials anticipate much steeper reductions in state support next year.

"If we can cushion our fall, it's going to help save programs," said Supt. Roy Romer.

Principals had been asked to set aside $40 per student in reserve funds, totaling $27 million this year, and that money will not be spent if Tuesday's proposal is approved. The money would come from various accounts, including arts education, school materials, parent and community services and intersession programs.

Board member David Tokofsky said he wanted to study the proposed cuts further because he didn't want to reduce resources for year-round schools or for low-income students.

Board member Marlene Canter said many teachers already pay for materials out of their own pockets.

"Some schools don't even have enough money to pay for Xerox paper," she said.

But Romer said the central district office would set aside $3 million to cover cuts made at campuses struggling the most severely.

"Any school that has that kind of hardship should go directly to their local superintendent" for financial help, Romer said.

About $17 million in cuts, as recommended by Gov. Gray Davis, would come from state funding for textbooks and peer review programs for struggling teachers.

In addition, $34 million would come from central and local office accounts such as human resources, school police, facilities and information technology, according to the plan.

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