Pleas for more school funding come amid budget warnings

Judith Perez, pictured at an elementary school in 2009 , spoke at Tuesday's school board meeting that campuses lack needed administrators, joining the voices calling for staff restorations in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

A parade of speakers implored L.A. school district officials Tuesday to use new revenues to restore and build programs, even amid warnings that budget problems loom and could worsen depending on developments in the state Legislature.

The public hearing and information session, held at Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, was a prelude to a June 18 vote on a final budget. Unlike in recent years, no teacher layoffs are expected, and there’s even been hiring in non-teaching positions after thousands of layoffs during the recession.

But staffing levels haven’t recovered to those of the 2007-08 school year.

In the interim, class sizes in the early grades have gone up from 20 to 24 students -- and higher in upper grades. Physical education classes have ballooned to more than 60 students. Elementary schools have lost custodial staff and any notion of frequent cleaning; instead, small teams of cleaners rush from campus to campus at night.


The budget picture has improved because of an uptick in the economy and because voters in November passed Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase.

The teachers union has called for sweeping restorations.

“We’ve been through five years of recession,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “We’ve been through savage cuts and those cuts have hurt your children.… Let’s put the needs of the kids in the classroom first.”

Fletcher was hardly alone.


Judith Perez, head of the administrators union, pointed out that only the largest elementary schools have an assistant principal, even as principals are expected to carry out new, time-consuming teacher evaluations, a new discipline policy, a new California curriculum and ramped-up college prep requirements.

And so it went -- with pleas from art teachers, physical education instructors, clerical workers, librarians, counselors, adult school teachers and parents.

But Megan Reilly, the district’s chief financial officer, asserted that L.A. Unified’s $6.8-billion operating budget for next year remains out of balance. The district will consume reserves and then enter the red in future years without further action, she said.

Other officials warned that the state funding proposals remain in flux. The current spending plan of Gov. Jerry Brown offers extra dollars to school systems, such as L.A. Unified, that enroll the most challenging students.


But districts that don’t fare as well are fighting to delay or alter the governor’s plan. At stake for L.A. Unified is as much as $240 million in new ongoing money and $88 million in one-time funding, said Alex Cherniss, chief business officer for the L.A. County Office of Education.

Tuesday’s meeting was held in two parts, with one session beginning at 9 a.m. and the other at 5 p.m. to accommodate work schedules.


Dorner case: Investigation reportedly clears LAPD in firing


L.A. County delays decision on troubled foster care contractor

Driver arrested on suspicion of abandoning hurt child after wreck

Twitter: @howardblume |