Thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District employees lost their bids to save their jobs Tuesday when the Board of Education voted to eliminate nearly 5,400 positions in hopes of resolving a $596 million budget deficit for the coming school year.
The board voted 4-3 to approve the 2009-10 budget plan after nearly four hours of sometimes-contentious debate that was occasionally interrupted by shouts from the audience of school teachers and other district employees who have been lobbying the board to avoid layoffs.
The final vote technically authorized 8,541 layoffs, but Superintendent Ramon Cortines and Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said the district would route state funding to individual schools, allowing them to "buy back" 3,167 positions, resulting in a final estimate of 5,374 layoffs.
Those positions being restored include elementary school teachers, counselors, library aides and coaches.
"I want to remind us all how we got here," Cortines told the board and the audience. "We have had for years declining enrollment, declining revenues and we have not checked the number of employees and programs that we have been adding, and it has finally caught up with us."
Board members were unified in their criticism of the state Legislature, blaming lawmakers for failing to adequately fund education. They laid blame at the Legislature's feet for forcing the district to make difficult decisions that will put people out of work.
"These budget cuts are not of our choosing," board member Yolie Flores Aguilar said. "We're in this place because our state has been systematically tearing down public education.
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"...How is it possible that in California we are willing to spend $170,000 a year per kid to lock him up, while we spend only seven to 8,000 a year to give them a good education?" she asked, drawing applause from the audience.
Aguilar voted in favor of the layoff proposal, along with board members Monica Garcia, Marlene Canter and Richard Vladovic. Board members Tamar Galatzan, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and Julie Korenstein dissented.
Galatzan gave an impassioned speech against the layoff package, saying the district should be making full use of all of the funds it is receiving as part of the federal economic stimulus package to preserve jobs instead of spreading the money over the next two years.
"The stimulus money is supposed to be used to protect jobs," Galatzan said.
She said the district should not save the money for a rainy day.
"I think we should look outside and notice that there's a storm right now," she said.
The board discussed the proposed cuts two weeks ago, but, in the face of strident opposition from teachers, union leaders and parents, board members said they wanted more information about the possible impact on the district of the federal economic stimulus package.
That delay resulted in Cortines' recommendation to rescind layoff notices that had been sent to 1,996 elementary school teachers -- some of the positions that schools will be able to buy back with state funding. He said the decision by hundreds of district employees to take early retirement packages also enabled the district to preserve some jobs.
But while many hailed that progress, hundreds of demonstrators still marched outside the district headquarters and packed the boardroom during the meeting to protest job cuts.
Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, told the board working families are already struggling because of the down economy, and parents can't afford to have their children's schools weakened.
"What they need as parents more than anything right now is stability in their schools," Durazo said. "We support all of the hard-working men and women at LAUSD. ... I'm here to urge the board to make school site stability a top priority."
Former school board member Jackie Goldberg pleaded with the board to avoid approving layoffs, saying she still regrets voting in support of job cuts 20 years ago.
"If I could do it again, I would not have done what I did," she said. "... I sat here and cut the best music program in America. It never came back."
"... I am asking you to think about not being a part of the dismantling of public education in this state," she said.
But board members said they had little choice but to approve the job cuts to help balance the district's books -- even though the cuts will still leave the district $26.7 million in the red.
Garcia said she hoped that despite the board's action, more money could be found to help the district save some of the jobs the panel voted to eliminate.
"We may disagree about how to move forward today, but know this, this budget decision allows for more solutions tomorrow, the next day, before June 1," she said. "The door is not closed."
The layoffs include 1,028 job cuts in the district's central office, and 212 in local district offices.
District officials have said that given the size of the deficit and the fact that personnel costs account for up to 84 percent of the district's overall budget, layoffs are virtually inevitable.
Officials with the various district employee unions -- most notably United Teachers Los Angeles -- have blasted the proposed layoffs, saying the district has enough fat to cut from the budget before firing teachers and increasing class sizes.