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L.A. school board OKs final budget, including shortened school year

June 28, 2012 |  6:59 pm

The Los Angeles Board of Education approved its final $6-billion budget Thursday, bridging a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the state’s largest school district by shortening the school year and laying off about 3,000 employees.

In February, the board was tasked with closing an estimated $557-million shortfall. Through a series of negotiations with labor unions, which include unpaid days, a victory in arbitration with the teachers union and additional state funds, the district was able to whittle away at the massive deficit.

The approved budget nonetheless includes about $169 million in cuts, but salvages some programs previously facing elimination, including adult education, preschool, after-school and arts programs.

Richard Vladovic cast the only dissenting vote on the seven-member board.

Much of the restorations are contingent on the November election.

That ballot will include two funding initiatives for public education, including one backed by Gov. Jerry Brown. If it's approved, some funds may be used to restore the full academic year, said Supt. John Deasy.

If voters turn down a tax increase, L.A. Unified budget woes would worsen considerably,  Deasy said. Should it fail, the district would be facing about $264 million more in cuts.

“I just want you to tell me it will be OK,” board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte said to Deasy before the vote.

Deasy said he could not do so, stressing that the November initiative is necessary to stave off more drastic cuts.

The budget scales back the district’s adult education programs, which previously faced elimination, by shrinking enrollment to about a third of current levels. Preschool programs will continue at reduced levels and the number of elementary school arts educators, nurses and librarians, as well as overall class sizes, will be maintained at current levels.

The district this month reached an agreement with teacher unions that prevented thousands of layoffs in exchange for 10 unpaid days, which would shorten the school year by a week.

Under that agreement, teachers will lose pay for five instructional days plus four holidays and one training day, equivalent to about a 5% salary cut.

More than 9,000 teachers had faced being laid off as of June 30. Under the budget, 3,200 teachers and support staff will be fired.

The district’s Beyond the Bell after-school program, which serves about 40,000 students, was set to be eliminated as recently as Wednesday.
 
Instead, Deasy presented the board with the option of maneuvering funds that had been set aside for placing a parcel tax on the November ballot and using surplus state funds for preschool. That would amount to about $6.7 million.

Should the board move to place the parcel tax on a future ballot, that money would have to be found elsewhere, Deasy said.

Board Member Bennett  Kayser, who was elected last year, said before his vote that during his campaign he was often asked if he would ever vote for a budget that includes teacher layoffs.

“I said that it would be the last possible idea for a solution before I would vote for it,” he told the audience. “And --  it has come to that. So I vote yes.”

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--Stephen Ceasar

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