The Los Angeles schools' chief operating officer is ordering staff members to reduce unnecessary spending on conferences and staff development meetings, which cost the district $20 million last year.
"We need to shrink this amount fast," Tim Buresh of the Los Angeles Unified School District wrote in an October memo.
He urged employees to seek space at local district offices or at the district headquarters on Beaudry Avenue downtown, instead of reserving costly rooms in hotels or office buildings.
"This kind of scrutiny, we're doing it all through the budget, at every single line," Buresh said in an interview Monday. He explained that the district must cut $500 million this year from its $6-billion budget.
The district spends $200 million on professional development each year, Buresh said. Although most such training takes place at schools, some requires meeting spaces that can accommodate more than 1,000 people.
Buresh conceded that the district does not have much space that would hold that many people. Its largest meeting rooms hold no more than 150, and it is difficult to squeeze 1,000 people onto a campus, he said, because parking is tight and the space is needed for classes or extracurricular activities.
"The problem is we've got only a couple of spaces that will take up to 150 people," Buresh said. "They need the ability to break up into work groups, set up computers, have break-out sessions."
Nonetheless, he said, he is encouraging employees to use campus auditoriums or inexpensive public meeting rooms. He also suggests breaking training sessions into smaller groups that can fit into district offices.
The district's board room is often free and "well suited for large groups," his memo said, adding that it offers connections for streaming broadcasts via the Internet.
Supt. Roy Romer said most of L.A. Unified's gains in test scores over the last four years were due to better training of teachers, through staff development conferences and sessions sponsored by the state and district. Most of those programs were necessary, he said, but some "we can knock out entirely."
"I have been working with staff for two months on alternate ways to control costs. That memo was in keeping with my instructions," Romer said. "We feel there's a substantial reduction in costs that we have to make, and are intending to make."
Board member David Tokofsky said that although he supported professional growth and staff training in the district, it should not be held at such places as the Wilshire Hotel downtown.
"It's outrageous that there is a burden on Romer and the board to balance the budget and make sure we can provide health care [for employees] and textbooks for kids, and people spend like they're [in] the private sector," Tokofsky said.
Los Angeles teachers union President John Perez said such expenses are not acceptable. "Every dime that does not directly and positively serve classrooms must be saved," he said. "The bureaucracy must be cut."