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Budget ax poised to fall at L.A. schools

April 14, 2009 |  7:50 am

An increasingly familiar drama will play out at school district headquarters as the Los Angeles Board of Education takes up cost-cutting measures that could eliminate thousands of jobs and leads to larger classes, fewer counselors, unswept hallways and unstaffed libraries.

For a second consecutive meeting, the school board will weigh proposals projected to save $596.1 million from a general fund of nearly $6 billion. Employees, union leaders and parents are expected to descend on 333 S. Beaudry Ave., just west of downtown, as they have periodically for months during previous rounds of budget slashing and protracted labor contract negotiations.

Budget problems in the Los Angeles Unified School District and other school systems are a direct fallout of  the national and state economic downturn, exacerbated locally by declining enrollment.

The budget ax never fell during the previous session, when Supt. Ramon C. Cortines backed down from insisting on an immediate vote to schedule meetings with any group ready to offer alternatives that would spare jobs and services. He did not get one thing that top officials have been suggesting: Concessions from the teachers union that would, in effect, reduce pay to save jobs.

The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles has insisted there is enough money to avoid teacher layoffs. Other employee unions have been willing to discuss unpaid furlough days.

On Monday, one category of employees received good news.

Cortines announced he would recommend rescinding notices of possible layoffs that were sent to nearly 2,000 permanent elementary school teachers. He cited greater confidence in the district's ability to access additional funds from the federal economic stimulus package as a factor. Another helpful development was the decision by about 600 employees to accept early retirement.

Critics insist the greatest factor that changed was the ratcheting up of pressure on district officials.

The union also had leverage, through the state education code, to insist on hearings for every permanent teacher who received a layoff notice. The district had projected those hearings to cost more than $9.5 million. The hearings also would have had to occur before the end of the school year, and officials feared they would disrupt classes, as well as state testing. Substitutes would have replaced classroom teachers attending the hearings.

Still at risk of losing jobs are about 3,500 teachers who lack tenure protections. They are not entitled to hearings. More than 2,000 other non-teaching employees also risk losing their positions.

-- Howard Blume