Acting on behalf of 38,000 magnet and special-education students, Los Angeles Unified will file suit today in federal court challenging state budget cuts that wipe out the district's $38million busing program for the rest of the school year.
Superintendent John Deasy got authorization for the suit during a closed-door session Tuesday with the school board. The meeting took place as Gov. Jerry Brown was announcing that a $2.2 billion shortfall in new revenue would trigger $980 million in cuts statewide.
"We will file a lawsuit that supports our students and will seek a (temporary restraining order)," Deasy said, sparking applause from magnet students in the audience who had spoken out against the looming reductions. "The district cannot tolerate another single solitary cut."
Along with the loss of $38 million for transportation - essentially half of the district's annual budget for busing - Los Angeles Unified will have to trim $8 million from its general fund. That's significantly less than the $188 million hit the district could have faced under the worst-case scenario envisioned by Deasy in the days leading up to Brown's announcement. However, the superintendent added that Brown said the state's public schools would hear about additional cuts in January if revenues still lag.
Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, put the trigger cuts into context, noting that the loss of even $8 million comes atop multibillion-dollar reductions in funding over the last two years.
"It's hard to classify this as good news," he said.
In its lawsuit, the district is expected to argue that the loss of the home-to-school transportation money will end voluntary busing for 35,000 students attending its 172 magnet schools. The specialized campuses are the backbone of a court-ordered desegregation program that was triggered by a lawsuit - Crawford vs. LAUSD - filed in the early 1960s.
In addition, about 13,000 pupils also are bused on a daily basis under federal regulations to serve special-needs students - those with behavioral, physical and developmental disabilities.
"Due to the combined mandates, the trigger cuts force the district to choose between two illegal and unconstitutional outcomes," Deasy said. "It must either terminate its transportation services ... or divert precious classroom dollars from its general fund to pay for the required transportation services.
A spokesman said both district lawyers and an outside firm would handle the case.
Catherine Lhamon, director of impact litigation with Public Counsel Law Center, said the district has a valid complaint in its challenge to the trigger laws. The district is unique because there is a court order to desegregate schools through busing, said Llamon, who represented parents who successfully sued in 2006 to uphold voluntary busing and the district's desegregation program.
"If it had to disband the program, it will violate an existing court order and constitutional guarantee."
In announcing the $250 million cut to the state's home-to-school transportation fund, Brown conceded that K-12 districts must bus some students, but he suggested that they could still pay for transportation programs by cutting elsewhere.
"Any school district that wants to spend on home transportation can do that," Brown said at a briefing in Sacramento. "They have their funds, and this is local flexibility to make whatever decision they want."
Deasy said the district would be hard-pressed to find the transportation money elsewhere, but added that he would not violate the law and, if necessary, would find a way to put students on buses after they return from winter break.
Several students from the Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles pleaded with the school board to retain the bus routes for them and their classmates.
"We no longer will accept attacks on education," said Maria Martirosyan, 18, a senior at Bravo. "Students are being infringed upon, and these cuts infringe on our quality education These are direct attacks on our own students and are extremely short-sighted."
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