Districts pass on LAUSD example

DOWNTOWN — Glendale and Burbank unified school district officials expect to lose tens of millions of dollars over the next three years and may be faced with the prospect of making layoffs, but neither district has pursued a track for cutting costs that Los Angeles Unified officials planned to approve Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has offered early-retirement incentives, commonly referred to as “golden handshakes,” to its teachers and planned to extend the same offer to non-teaching employees in an effort to encourage older, higher-salaried workers to vacate their positions and save the district money.

Officials hoped to offer retirees a cash payment — worth 40% of their current salaries and spread over five years — to encourage them to call it quits, Los Angeles Unified spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said.

“This will help the district by reducing the payroll,” said Pollard-Terry, who added that officials were not yet certain how much would be saved by the moves because a final tally of all retiring employees had not yet been taken.

Los Angeles Unified could layoff as many as 2,600 teachers and 2,500 other employees in an effort to maintain solvency amid drastic budget cuts. The district expects to be $1.3 billion in the red over the next two years, according to a recent statement by Supt. Ramon Cortines.

Burbank Unified expects to lose $13.1 million over the next three years, and Glendale Unified projects a $25.3-million deficit by mid-2012 unless significant steps are taken to trim expenses.

Glendale Unified has not explored the option of offering early-retirement incentives because the step is most attractive to districts that are cutting jobs, Supt. Michael Escalante said.

“L.A. Unified is in a different situation because they’re doing layoffs,” Escalante said. “We’re not doing layoffs.”

The Burbank Unified Board of Education voted last week to cut 34 teacher jobs without having explored the option of offering early-retirement incentives or making salary and benefit reductions in order to reduce expenses and save jobs.

Burbank Unified administrators had conducted a brief count of teachers who might qualify for the incentives, but did not fully analyze the financial benefit of offering the golden handshakes because the pool of employees who met the requirements for the offers was not substantial, said Lori Ordway-Peck, chief business and financial officer.

Even so, it is unlikely that retirement incentives would have made a difference in Burbank Unified’s layoff decisions, Ordway-Peck said.

“There are so many different [retirement incentive] programs being touted that I would really have to see how the numbers stack up,” she said. “There are pretty significant costs associated with this, so the idea that there are significant savings, to me, are questionable.”

Early retirement incentives might be an option for the upcoming year in Glendale and Burbank, officials said.

But even then, the savings generated from an early-retirement decision would only be temporary, whereas the growing concern for educators are ongoing and escalating costs, Escalante said.

“It’s only a short-term option,” he said. “It only helps really in one year. In the future years, you’re going find out you have lesser attrition.”

A more lucrative approach to savings might involve renegotiating health-care benefits and salary figures with teachers unions, officials said.

 ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@ latimes.com.

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