The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday passed a $7.6-billion budget that includes significantly higher spending for next year, though questions remain about how much of that money will go to the students it should.
Despite the budget's additional $700 million, officials warned against expecting to see sweeping benefits in the classroom.
The district also is paying a higher fee to the state pension fund for retirees, managing increased healthcare costs and footing the balance of a two-year, 10% raise for teachers and other employees.
A portion of the new money will be used to hire one extra teacher for electives at each high school and one extra teacher at 55 elementary schools with especially pressing needs. About $10 million would go toward the district's new discipline program — up from $7 million this year. Called restorative justice, it aims to reduce suspensions and expulsions.
Other increases are for arts education, special offerings in magnet schools and a program to provide academic instruction in dual languages.
"It is right for some of our allies to look at what we've done and question," said board member Monica Garcia, before stating that there is "no doubt" that the district is making progress. But she added, "There is more work to do."
Even with the larger budget, the board has approved 32 layoffs and 17 "separations" (for staff who are not permanent employees) and reduced hours for 55 district employees. Those affected include educational aides, parent liaisons and career placement assistants, though many could be rehired over the summer as schools decide how to use discretionary money.
The vote comes at a time of financial uncertainty, as state officials and advocates argue with the nation's second-largest school system over its spending priorities.
Under the state's funding formula, most of the new dollars are supposed to help low-income students, students who are learning English and students in the foster-care system.
But L.A. Unified is spending a lower percentage of this money on these students than other school systems, say advocates who have sued the district and accuse it of violating state law.
State officials initially sided strongly with the advocates, but it's unclear how hard they are willing to push the school system to rewrite its budget.
L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King has vowed to challenge the state in court if necessary. Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly warned last week that following the state's directives would require a dramatic increase in class sizes and a staff reduction of up to 2,000.
The district gets state funding for each student that it serves. But some programs, such as food services and special education, cost more than what's coming in to cover them. In those cases, the district has to look elsewhere for funding.
The district contends it can use some of the new state money to fill in the funding gap for services to the disabled, as long as the disabled students covered are among the students the state is targeting for extra help.
The advocates suing the district disagree, and as much as $450 million a year could be at stake.
The teachers union president praised the priorities signaled by the budget, which includes money for recent changes to the teachers contract such as the additional elementary school teachers.
"We're happy that our contract agreement, which focuses on highest need and highest priority schools, is one part of an … equity focus in this budget," said United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl.
Some parents at the board meeting, however, were less satisfied.
There should be more transparency into how well programs work and parents should have more say in how principals use discretionary money, said Juan Jose Mangandi, president of the English Learner Advisory Committee, who has a 6-year-old son in the school system.
District enrollment has been decreasing for the last decade because of changing demographics and an increase in enrollment at independent charter schools, a trend that the district is trying to reverse. The district anticipates an enrollment drop of 13,728 for the 2016-17 school year in district-operated schools, and an increased independent charter enrollment of 5,984.
Total district enrollment, including charters, is about 650,000 this year.
Board President Steve Zimmer praised King, who took charge in January, on her first district-wide budget, but called for "all hands on deck" to improve funding and spending, and to increase enrollment, which would bring in more money.
"We need a comprehensive strategy around the very obvious issues that we struggle with at this table every single day," Zimmer said. Another variable in the district's finances is the funding that L.A. Unified and other school systems receive from Proposition 30, a 2012 ballot measure that increased income taxes to pay for education and other needs. That measure expires at the end of 2018. If voters across the state fail to approve an extension, then L.A. Unified and other school systems would face financial crisis, Zimmer said.
7:20 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details and comments.
5:50 p.m.: This article was updated with passage of the budget.