Los Angeles teachers and school district reach pact to spare jobs

The Los Angeles school district and the teachers union reached a tentative agreement Friday that would prevent thousands of layoffs in exchange for 10 furlough days, which would shorten the school year by a week.

Under the accord, teachers would lose pay for five instructional days plus four holidays and one training day, equivalent to about a 5% salary cut.

The deal must by ratified by teachers and approved by the L.A. Board of Education. The school board is scheduled to vote on the plan at a meeting Tuesday; union members are expected to vote at schools beginning Wednesday.

“This agreement will enable many of our valued employees to remain in the classroom next year,” said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

The budget picture will be affected by the November election. That ballot will include two funding initiatives for public education, including one backed by Gov. Jerry Brown. If it’s approved, some funds may be used to restore the full academic year, Deasy said.

If voters turn down a tax increase for schools, L.A. Unified’s budget woes would worsen considerably, the superintendent said. The equivalent of three additional weeks of school would have to be sacrificed, Deasy said. A typical school year is 180 days.

“We are all hanging on November,” Deasy said.

If the governor’s tax initiative passes, union officials said any additional money must go toward reducing the number of furlough days. And if teachers take the furlough days and the district ends up with a year-end surplus, teachers would be reimbursed for the pay cut, the union said.

More than 9,000 teachers had faced being laid off as of June 30.

The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has estimated that even with an agreement, more than 1,300 members still are likely to lose jobs because of declining enrollment; others will be out of work because funding for some positions has been lost or redirected.

For parent Jasmine Jia, the pact was the preferable of two undesirable options: layoffs or furloughs.

“Between the two choices, the furlough days for teachers are preferable, but the state of public education is so sad and frightening,” said Jia, whose daughter is a sixth-grader at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies in Mid-City.

Jia praised the teachers and the school but added “the teacher can only cram in so much information with fewer school days.”

She worried that a greater burden would fall on overworked or ill-prepared parents to fill in the gaps.

School officials have been trying to close a budget gap they estimated at $390 million. Union leaders sometimes contested that math or questioned whether officials were cutting as much as they could from areas other than the classroom.

Over recent months, the district agreed to reduce funding for its television station and slash the number of regional offices from eight to four. Proposals to cut elementary arts teachers, early education programs and adult education, among other things, were approved but at least partially spared by the agreement.

This year’s crisis followed a familiar recession-era pattern. In 2008, the district closed a $427-million deficit; in 2009, $838 million; in 2010, $620 million; in 2011, $408 million. In all nearly 8,000 employees were laid off over the last four years; many teachers have since been rehired or used as substitutes.

Other recent school years also have been shortened. This year, the last day for most schools will be June 19, three days early. In another year, Thanksgiving became a weeklong vacation — as it probably will again.

“This is not just one furlough agreement but three years in a row for most employees,” Deasy said. “It’s a lot of sacrifice for which I am profoundly grateful.”

Last year, the teachers union agreed to conditional furlough days, and a dispute over them arose after the fact. An arbitrator finally ruled in the district’s favor, but the row delayed negotiations to resolve the current deficit.

Budget problems are being felt up and down the state as a record number of school districts face insolvency. Layoffs and furloughs have been approved in other school systems as well.

In L.A. Unified, the state’s largest school district, other unions already have agreed to pay cuts, mirroring the pact with the teachers.