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L.A. school board OKs cuts that could lay off thousands

April 14, 2009 |  5:37 pm

Moments ago, the Los Angeles Board of Education approved budget measures that could result in more than 5,000 job losses. The 4-3 vote came after impassioned testimony and debate that lasted more than four hours.

The imperative was to close a $596.1-million gap in next year's budget.

"Anger is appropriate and outrage is appropriate," said school board President Monica Garcia, who voted with the majority. "Nobody wants to do these layoffs."

The board action affects about 3,500 newer teachers who have yet to earn tenure protections as well as administrators, counselors, nursing staff and librarians. They could lose their jobs as a result of program cuts and larger classes, which could rise from 20 to 24 students in the early grades. Sixth-grade classes would rise to 35 students.

Some campuses could be especially hard hit, including Del Olmo Elementary in Koreatown, where test scores surged in 2008.

At Del Olmo, nearly two-thirds of the teachers received notice that they could be laid off.

"What type of reform is it if quality teachers are being let go?" asked second-grade teacher Regina Ramos.
"This is how the achievement gap begins. It starts right now."

There was some relief this afternoon at the elementary level, where nearly 2,000 permanent teachers also faced a possible layoff. At the recommendation of Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, the board voted to rescind layoff notices affecting permanent teachers. That won't help about 1,600 elementary teachers who don't yet have tenure protections.

The board's sparing of veteran teachers restores, for example, 16 of the 29 teachers at risk at Del Olmo.

"I’m glad to hear some teachers' jobs will be saved," Ramos said, "but it's not enough."

One teacher who benefited from the reprieve was Araceli Castro, who teaches 5th grade at Hoover Elementary, near MacArthur Park. She warned the board about the cost of losing those teachers who remain endangered.

"You might be losing some of the best and they will never return," she said.

There was little solace of any kind for middle schools and high schools, especially those with less experienced teachers. Liechty Middle School, west of downtown, still could lose about half its teachers, including Julie Van Winkle.

"We have a great middle school full of motivated teachers," Van Winkle told board members. She added that teachers have little faith in claims that district officials have exhausted cost-cutting options that don't involve salary concessions.

Advocates and union leaders have insisted that the school district is not using enough of its federal economic stimulus money to save jobs.

"I don’t think the stimulus money should be saved for a rainy day," said board member Tamar Galatzan, who voted against the budget proposal. "I think we should look outside and see a storm brewing."

Galatzan also objected to the extra-heavy hit suffered by schools in middle-class neighborhoods, including many in her west San Fernando Valley district.

The funding imbalance results largely from the fact that federal dollars have been targeted mostly toward schools serving low-income families.

The debate over the budget and jobs will continue to play out in the coming weeks. The layoffs are aimed to take effect July 1.

The district also is planning to lay off several thousand non-teaching employees who answer phones, program computers, clean bathrooms and serve food. Most of these workers are entitled to 45 days notice. The district already is developing seniority lists in preparation.

"Continue to look at ways to keep employees and keep class sizes as low as possible,” board member Richard Vladovic said to Cortines. Vladovic joined colleagues Garcia, Yolie Flores Aguilar and Marlene Canter in voting in favor of the recommendation. The other no votes were those of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and Julie Korenstein.

Cortines already had made it clear that he hoped to save many additional jobs between now and July 1. On Monday, he said he would welcome salary reductions that would save jobs, but that alternative would have to be negotiated with unions.

The teachers union leadership has maintained that there is no need either to lay off teachers or reduce their pay. Other unions have signaled a willingness to discuss unpaid furlough days.

"We should continue the conversation," Cortines said. "We need to exhaust every avenue.”

-- Howard Blume