The Los Angeles Unified School District is proposing to furlough its 80,000 employees for up to five days without pay next year to help cope with a $381-million budget shortfall and avoid layoffs. For teachers, that would mean losing some vacation and preparation days but would not reduce students’ instruction time.
The proposal is scheduled to be discussed by the Board of Education on Tuesday and would have to be negotiated with unions, which strongly oppose it. If approved, it would result in a 1.8% pay cut for all staff, including teachers, clerical workers and administrators, said Joe Zeronian, chief financial officer for L.A. Unified.
The rotating furloughs of four to five days would save the district $68 million, money that would preserve the jobs of counselors, coaches, library aides and other staffers who otherwise could face layoffs or sharp reductions in hours, he said.
“One alternative is cutting personnel. On the other hand, if you have a whole office take a furlough for four days, when they return they have same manpower level,” Zeronian said. “I wouldn’t say this is a popular thing, but if you talk to people and ask which would you prefer, they would prefer a furlough.”
But union representatives strongly disagree, and say the district should cut more deeply from central offices and administrative expenses before dipping into the salaries and vacations of other employees.
“Furlough is just a fancy way of saying ‘pay cut,’ ” said Delores Sanchez, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the California School Employees Assn., which represents business, clerical and technology workers. “Many, many of our classified workers are single parents. We can’t accept this. It would hurt our families.”
John Perez, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said the union is going to fight the proposal. The concept will “so anger the members that they are going to go nuts,” he said.
“Instead of cutting from the top, they are immediately cutting the real program, which is the child’s education,” Perez said.
Zeronian said the proposal is less severe than the layoffs that hundreds of other districts across the state are implementing. And it would not be the first time the Los Angeles school system tried furloughs.
In 1992, an eight-day furlough was approved by the local school board and rescinded after the State Board of Education objected. In 1991, the Los Angeles board and unions approved a two- to five-day furlough in addition to a 3% pay cut for all employees. The union agreed to the action after the district guaranteed to later repay the amount cut from salaries.
Other proposed reductions next year for L.A. Unified include cutting $77 million from instructional materials, nursing, principals’ hours and desegregation programs and other school-related expenses. In addition, $54 million in central administration office cuts are on the table, Zeronian said. The rest of the budget gap would be filled with $106 million from reserves and $49 million from state-funded categorical programs; an additional $27 million in cuts could be delayed until next year.
The district previously projected a $421-million shortfall in its $6.8-billion operating budget, but reduced that estimate by $40 million after Gov. Gray Davis’ May budget revisions, Zeronian said.
Employee benefits and retirement pensions would not be affected by a furlough.
“Obviously, no one likes to propose or accept that someone’s compensation would be cut,” Zeronian said. “But this is a responsible suggestion.”
Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer could not be reached for comment Friday.
School board members Mike Lansing, Caprice Young and Marlene Canter said they do not favor implementing a furlough, but said they may vote for it reluctantly if that means saving other sorely needed programs, positions or resources.
David Tokofsky said he wants the district to consider reducing its regional administrative units, known as subdistricts, from 11 to five or six before cutting pay for workers.
“I don’t think we should be balancing [the budget] on the backs of the people who keep the spirit of the institution going,” Tokofsky said.
Board members Jose Huizar, Genethia Hudley-Hayes and Julie Korenstein could not be reached for comment Friday.
Young said she will reluctantly consider approving a districtwide furlough because this is an “extraordinarily difficult budget year.”
“It’s certainly better than making cuts that are going to have a longer-term impact,” she said. “This is just a one-time thing this year. I would support this before I would increase class size.”
For Andy Griggs, a math teacher at Shenandoah Street Elementary School, a 1.8% pay cut would amount to about $1,200 in lost income next year, he said. “That’s a month of rent at least,” he said. “It’s like they are punishing us, and it’s not right.”
Griggs said teachers use their preparation days for staff meetings and to set up their classrooms before school begins each semester. Already, teachers volunteer more time after school, on weekends or on vacation days, setting up bulletin boards, organizing seating charts and making sure there are enough pencils and textbooks for students.
“Usually what happens is you will see teachers coming in a whole week before school, setting up their rooms,” he said. “So if they are talking about not paying teachers on those pupil-free days, we already do enough volunteering of our time.”
Eli Brent, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, said a furlough would damage the morale of district staff, who already feel overworked and unappreciated.
“Am I angry? Yes. Am I upset? Yes,” he said. “If UTLA and the other unions call for a strike, we will join them. We feel very strong about it.”
Perez, of the teachers union, said there are no plans for a strike.
Brent said too much money has been wasted on attorneys, administrators’ offices, senior staff and the $74.5-million high-rise building downtown that serves as the district’s new headquarters.