After months of debating and lamenting the fiscal crisis, Los Angeles Unified officials Thursday finalized the budget for the 2011-12 school year, using employee concessions and about 3,000 layoffs to help close a $408 million deficit.
The state budget signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, however, could prompt the district to review its books and potentially hire back more employees. The state budget contains more revenue for education than expected, meaning the district could add $180 million more to its spending plan.
The LAUSD budget calls for about $7 billion in spending, compared with $7.1 billion last year.
The school board voted 6 to 1, with Marguerite LaMotte dissenting, to approve the budget that lays off some 1,900 teachers, nurses and counselors. The cuts were far less severe than the "worst-case scenario" district officials had presented in February.
That proposal would have laid off more than 5,000 educators, and 2,000 cafeteria workers, office clerks, bus drivers and other support staff. Class sizes would have increased in grades K-8.
After most employee unions agreed to take four furlough days and the state budget appeared to take a turn for the better, district officials still characterized the budget as a "survival" plan.
"No one on this board thinks this budget is a good idea," said board president Monica Garcia. "This budget is about surviving a very dark period."
The state budget for the fiscal year that begins today includes several provisions that could change LAUSD's current fiscal plan.
One asks districts to assume they'll be funded next year as they were this year, based on the Legislature's expectation that state revenues will increase by $4 billion.
Since LAUSD officials included a cut of some $330 per student based on an expected decline in state funding, this provision could mean up to an additional $180 million for the district - nearly half of this year's deficit.
However, LAUSD's Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said the plan could put districts in a very uncomfortable position, asking them to rely on a rosy financial outlook that hasn't materialized.
Another provision asks district to ignore the "trigger cut" of some $2 billion to education that would come if revenues don't appear. A third prevents school districts from laying off any more staff next year, according to an Assembly analysis of the bill.
"This goes against everything I've ever known about a budget," Reilly said.
Union leaders, however, said the district should be happy with the news from Sacramento.
"We're very pleased that a budget was signed on time by Gov. Brown, only the second time it's happened in 10 years. That alone is a victory," said Judy Perez, president of Associated Administrators Los Angeles.
Perez urged LAUSD financial officials to realize that the Legislature's assumptions are based on data and tax revenues already collected and asked district officials to instead turn their eye to the issue of declining enrollment.
Since 2008, LAUSD has laid off more than 4,600 teachers, principals, counselors, and other school support staff and 3,000 office clerks, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other school personnel, according to district documents.
While state budget cuts have prompted many of those cuts, declining enrollment continues to threaten LAUSD programs and personnel. This year LAUSD's enrollment dropped to some 672,000 students - down 80,000 from its peak enrollment of 747,000 in 2002 - and projections point to a deeper decline for next year.
More than half of the students that have left the district have gone to charter campuses, which are publicly funded but run free from most state and district mandates.
School board member Steve Zimmer asked Superintendent John Deasy to draft a long-term plan for addressing the exodus of students.
"I am not talking about capping charter schools ... I am talking about expanding the kinds of opportunities that will attract families to stay at LAUSD," Zimmer said.
Among those attractive options, Zimmer talked about magnet schools, dual-language schools and span schools serving kids from K-8 - all models that have proven successful in pockets of LAUSD.