The news that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may request additional cuts to state school budgets has teachers, administrators and parents in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in a high state of anxiety.
As part of the fallout from the ongoing state budget crunch, Schwarzenegger is seeking to raise taxes to bring more revenue to the state’s coffers. The governor is also calling for a mid-year cut of $2.5 billion for education, much to the chagrin of local parents and teachers.
“In the event that there are budget cutbacks, the focus should be on cuts at Beaudry, and not at local schools,” said Bill Ring, an organizer of the Local District 3 Parent Community Advisory Council, referring to the school district’s Beaudry Headquarters. “The schools will be devastated if the focus on cutbacks is at the local level.”
Megan Reilly, chief financial officer at the school district, said that the proposed reductions would be very difficult for L.A. Unified, which cut 680 jobs over the summer in an effort to balance its $8.6 billion budget.
“It was hard enough to do that, so doing it again in the middle of the school year could be chaotic,” Reilly said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, feels that this latest budget crisis is a cautionary tale for entities that do not have their fiscal priorities in the proper order.
“This is the net result of years and years of LAUSD indifference to the priorities of public education,” the union leader told The Argonaut.
David L. Brewer, the superintendent of L.A. Unified, wrote to the school district’s employees recently, forewarning them that cutbacks could yet again become a reality.
“This [current financial] situation is especially urgent because California’s financial picture is getting worse every day,” the superintendent wrote in the letter. “The governor has called for an emergency legislative session in November, and we anticipate that their actions could swell LAUSD’s current $375 million deficit to more than a half-billion dollars, which would require even steeper, potentially devastating mid-year slashing.”
Kelly Kane, the president of the Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation, is worried that any potential reductions in teachers or classified personnel will be harmful to the reform effort that is under way in Westchester. Five of the seven Westchester schools have joined the iDesign Division of the school district as part of the move toward autonomy within L.A. Unified, and they are now engaged in forming their own governance models, which will include how to manage budgets on the local level.
“When the first round of budget cuts happened, Superintendent Brewer stated that schools that belonged to iDesign would not be affected by these budget cuts,” Kane recalled. “And we intend to hold him to that promise.”
Terry Marcellus, whose three children are Westchester High School graduates and who remains involved in matters of education in Westchester, has seen cutbacks like this before.
“We’ve seen all school districts go through fire alarms like this in the past, but this is very serious because it will be multiple years [of budget reductions] that we’re faced with,” Marcellus noted.
Brewer has urged the district’s employees to remain calm throughout the budget dilemma.
“I know how difficult this fiscal crisis has become for all of you,” he wrote in his letter. “However, if we work together and work smart, then I assure you that we will survive to educate our students during these tough times, just as our parents and grandparents survived and raised families during the Great Depression.
“This is our responsibility. This is our mission. This will be our legacy.”
Reilly had not returned phone calls for comment at Argonaut press time.