Los Angeles school district officials on Tuesday approved a $7.4-billion budget that was a mix of gains and losses for the nation’s second largest school system.
Employees across the district will get raises negotiated over the past year and class sizes will shrink slightly. But dozens of employees will lose jobs and nearly 200 others will face reduced pay or hours.
The general operating budget is a little smaller than last year, because enrollment continues to decline by about 14,000 students per year. About 453,000 students were enrolled this year. State funding per student has increased but administrative and instruction costs also are rising.
Overall, the district’s budget is in the black for this year and next, but L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner has warned that the school system is rapidly spending down reserves and faces serious problems three years out.
“We’re investing more money in schools than the state and federal government provides us with,” Beutner said in a recent interview. “Either we find more revenue or we’ll have to face a series of choices.”
Board member Jackie Goldberg questioned the deficit projections, noting that predictions of shortfalls over the past decade had not come to pass.
Earlier this month local voters rejected Measure EE, which would have raised an estimated $500 million annually from new property taxes. Other efforts to increase school funding are in the works, including a statewide ballot measure in the November 2020 election. That ballot measure targets tax protections for commercial property owners, generating funds that would go to education and other purposes.
Despite the failure of Measure EE, employees have begun to receive recently negotiated pay raises of about 6% over three years. In addition, class sizes will gradually shrink by about four students over three years. The district agreed to stick to agreed-on maximum class sizes, which vary by subject and grade, but include 39 students in high school English and math.
As for the layoffs, union leaders on Tuesday had a difficult time identifying the individuals who will lose jobs. That’s because the district cut positions rather than specific people. A senior manager who loses a position, for example, can take the place of a less-senior person in a lower-salaried position for which the manager qualifies. This “bumping” process can be lengthy.
One group that will be heavily affected is clerical and technical staff represented by California School Employees Association Los Angeles Chapter 500.
For parents and students, the difference felt because of the lost employees will likely be at the front desks and main office of schools, said union President Letetsia Fox. Principals will have less help available in such tasks as putting together and managing budgets, she said.
The difference “will come in customer service,” Fox said.
Other positions to be cut include campus aides, accountants, payroll specialists and a translator.
In all, 61 employees will lose jobs; 188 will be demoted and get lower pay; 537 will be reassigned but not lose pay. The anticipated savings is $42 million in the central office, said Chief Financial Officer Scott Price. He said he did not have an immediate figure for savings outside the central office.
One recent restoration was to keep library aides at elementary schools.
The school system also spent some money on new hires, including two former senior officials. One is former Deputy Supt. Maria Ott, who will return to the school system part-time, for about $80,000 per year, as “executive in residence,” serving as a senior advisor on “leadership, development and change management,” as the district put it in a release.
After leaving L.A. Unified, Ott served as superintendent of two nearby school systems and also taught at USC. Ott could make up for some of the experience lost when Deputy Supt. Vivian Ekchian recently accepted a job heading Glendale’s schools.
Also coming back is former chief financial officer Megan Reilly. She left L.A. Unified in 2017 to accept a similar position with the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Reilly’s starting salary in Santa Clara was $260,000. Reilly’s new title is deputy superintendent of business services and operations. Her salary will be $294,995.
The district also hired a chief strategy officer, Veronica Arreguin at an annual salary of $190,463, as well as a senior data officer, Dina Sim, and a senior executive director of instruction, Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, both at a salary of $180,353.
Board member Scott Schmerelson was alone in voting no on the budget because it included layoffs “at the same time as we add highly paid executive staff” and large raises in some other management positions.