LAUSD Calls For Parcel Tax to Avoid ‘Worst Case’ Budget Scenario

Board members approve some cuts to early childhood and adult education.

By City News Service

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved a budget-balancing plan on Tuesday that would maintain the bulk of programs such as adult and early education, but only if furlough and salary agreements can be reached with labor unions and if voters support a $298 parcel tax.

The plan “provides a clear pathway for building,” board member Steven Zimmer said. “I can say that this budget, even with its clear and present dangers, remains a budget of hope.

“It allows us to have hope in our classrooms, in our early education centers and our adult education programs.”

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: LAUSD Aprueba Presupuesto, Necesita la Cooperación de los Sindicatos y de los Votantes

Superintendent John Deasy cautioned the board that even though he was optimistic about reaching labor agreements with United Teachers Los Angeles and other district unions, the plan for maintaining programs in the 2012-13 school year still relies on funding from the state that will remain uncertain until at least May, when the governor issues his budget revision, and likely into November.

Even if all of those uncertainties end positively, “everything I’ve just said is only for a year,” Deasy said. “None of it is ongoing. They’re all Band-Aids, and that is not the way to run a system.”

The district had been considering massive program cuts, including the elimination of adult and early childhood education and severe cuts in after-school programs and increases in class sizes.

He said the district’s ability to maintain programs into future years will rely on a proposed $298 parcel tax that the district will put to voters in November. Also impacting the district’s future will be voters’ response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax extensions.

“That is what allows these things to be ongoing,” Deasy said.

Hanging in the balance are not only educational programs but the jobs of thousands of district employees. The board has already authorized layoff-warning notices for 11,713 employees — a number that district officials said actually represents nearly 6,700 full-time positions since the larger number includes part-time workers and others whose jobs are funded by outside sources, such as the federal government.

Deasy said the district will likely be able to rescind many of those notices if all the pieces of the district’s budget fall into place. He noted that the district issued 7,302 layoff-warning notices last year but rescinded nearly half of them of them three months later.

The district is facing a $390.2 million budget shortfall in 2012-13 —down from roughly $557 million one month ago. Deasy said the smaller deficit was the result of higher-than-expected state revenues, restoration of state funding for student transportation and lower-than-anticipated benefit costs.

Deasy said he was confident of resolving a dispute with United Teachers Los Angeles over furloughs. Negotiations were also continuing with other labor unions over a possible across-the-board salary reduction for the coming year. Those agreements would close a large chunk of the budget deficit.

But about $173.5 million would have to come from the proposed parcel tax, which would generate an estimated $255 million a year. The tax, which needs the support of two-thirds of voters in November, would be assessed on every taxable piece of property within the district’s boundaries.
“Truly the picture is simply not going to be known until election day in November,” Deasy said.
The parcel tax, which would remain in place for five years, could prove to be an uphill battle for the district, which proposed a $100 parcel tax in 2010 and was soundly rejected by voters.

Board member Nury Martinez told the boisterous crowd of district employees, parents and students gathered both in and outside of the meeting room that they needed to maintain their enthusiasm through election day.

“I need your passion in November if we are going to get this parcel tax passed,” she said. “It starts today.”

She said the district’s financial picture looks better than it did last month, “but we still have so much work to do.”

Warren Fletcher, president of UTLA, told the board that while the district’s financial picture looks better, the problems are not yet resolved.

“When you say good news, it doesn’t look quite yet like it’s good news,” he said. “There may be good news on the horizon, but it’s not good news yet.”

He told the board it should take the roughly $180 million in savings it found over the past month and immediately rescind more than 2,000 of the layoff warning notices it previously authorized.

“To do otherwise means those teachers and their students and their schools are going to be treated as budgetary hostages,” he said.

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March 15, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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