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Plan emerges to solve new $140-million gap in L.A. schools budget

The weekend’s flurry of bill signings and vetoes included the governor’s veto of a measure that would have forestalled a new $140-million deficit affecting Los Angeles' public schools. But the deficit will likely be cured in another fashion as a result of apparently successful negotiations that preceded the veto.

Senate Bill 84 would have reversed unplanned-for cuts in supplemental funding totaling $400 million statewide and $140 million to low-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Last week, in the wake of intensive political pressure, the office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tentatively blessed a different financial fix. It consists of accelerating the spending of federal stimulus dollars to fill the gap.

The benefit is that many California school districts, including L.A. Unified, won’t face an immediate new deficit that could imperil their finances.

The downside is that, in the process, California would burn up more precious federal stimulus dollars, which then won’t be available for the next school year when budget deficits are expected to open up once again. In fact, if this accelerated money is used now, only 10% of the original stimulus funding would remain. School districts, including L.A. Unified, had hoped to save about 50% of the one-time federal funds for the 2010-11 school year.

“It’s not as if new money fell from heaven,” said Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff for state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). "We’re getting the money early and using it for this purpose. It’s a policy trade-off.”

The need for this trade-off arose in the closing hours of summer budget negotiations in the state Legislature. Lawmakers closed part of their funding gap by, in effect, usurping money from the Quality Education Investment Act, which was being funded over an eight-year period by a $2.9-billion litigation settlement. The purpose was to conduct a grand experiment in reducing the number of students per classroom and the number of students per counselor. This money became more important as the economic crisis struck, leaving school districts strapped for cash.

School districts adopted their budgets on the presumption that the QEIA money would remain. When that was suddenly gone, lawmakers substituted future federal grant funding in a move that turned out to be speculative at best.

The subsequently passed Senate Bill 84 restored the dollars but failed to specify a funding source, which marked the bill as destined for a Schwarzenegger veto.

In their lobbying efforts, districts pointed out that the QEIA cut would fall most heavily on poor, minority students because they had been the original beneficiaries of the funding. And cutting $140 million midyear would have been a nightmare for L.A. Unified. Increasing class size, for example, from 24 students per teacher to 29-to-1 in the first four grades would save only $47.3 million over one school year. A 1% salary reduction over a full year would save only $40 million.

The new legislative fix could be introduced in the Legislature this week.

“California will have a plan to achieve the savings included in the 2009-10 Budget, while holding QEIA schools harmless,” Schwarzenegger said in a letter that accompanied his veto.

-- Howard Blume

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Comments () | Archives (5)

The draconian layoffs and shuffling from school to school of the LAUSD clerical staff will result in inefficiencies, mistakes (such as in student records), maybe lawsuits and loss of grant and other money. Penny wise and pound foolish.

"California remains below the national average in per-pupil expenditures, ranking 29th in 2005–06, according to the National Education Association (NEA) Rankings & Estimates 2006–07. At $8,486, California was at 93% of the national average and ranked in the middle of the five most populous states."

Shuffling LAUSD clerical people from one school to a more distant school and draconian cuts in the clerical staffs will result in mistakes in school and student records, less efficient operating of the schools, fewer grants, lower morale and possible lawsuits. Penny wise and pound foolish in my opinion.

When you ^ your class sizes in those grades you will have students that will need bilingual assistance unless those teachers will be bilingual if not you will need 2 teachers, in those bilingual teachers will need an ^ in pay don't you think, not including security!.====DEFEATING THE PURPOSE====

I fail to understand why the Gov and the legislature will cut education funding but no prisons, prisoners and prison guards. A rapist, murderer, robber, have better education, health care, and food than many of the 1st graders in our schools.

It's so easy to ignore schools and education because they don't cause a threat to personal safety. Out of fear we will pay anything to keep prisoners locked up.

It's a choice. You either invest in education to raise society up or you invest in prisons and society falls.


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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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