Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Roy Romer announced a $7.5 billion proposed 2006-07 budget “to improve student performance and work toward the goal of eliminating the achievement gap” Tuesday, June 13th.

His proposed budget for the 2006-07 fiscal year operating fund targets enhancing academics at middle and high schools, reducing the dropout rate and improving student safety.

“After enduring years of budget cuts, it feels good to be sitting at the table today, having a truly strategic budget discussion,” said board of education president Marlene Canter, who represents local Board District 4.

“With Sacramento’s increased commitment to education, this district is focused on growing our most effective programs — and carrying our elementary school achievement gains into our secondary schools.”

Romer presented the proposed budget at the board of education meeting June 13th.

He said that the district’s budgetary focus in the last several years has resulted in higher test scores, reduced overcrowding and more-qualified teachers.

This year’s proposed budget does much the same.

“I am committed to strengthening academics at LAUSD schools and my budget proposal continues to build on the momentum that has improved student achievement over the last six years,” said Romer. “We know that when we invest more in our middle and high schools, our students are better prepared for college and careers.”

The proposal reflects the district’s desire to improve student achievement by providing $5.6 billion, or 75 percent of the operating budget, to increase academics and eliminate the achievement gap.

The Los Angeles Unified School District spends 92 percent of its budget on schools and classrooms.

The remaining eight percent is spent on services that support schools, such as computer services, payroll and curriculum development.

The proposed 2006-07 fiscal plan earmarks $36 million in one-time funds for top-to-bottom improvements at 17 of the district’s neediest high schools.

This includes $26 million in general funds and $10 million in bond funds for improved science labs, modernization of libraries and other capital improvements that will help improve academic performance at priority schools.

The $36 million priority high schools initiative is part of an overall $54.6 million augmentation in the proposed budget that targets reducing the dropout rate.

Funds will be used to hire dropout prevention counselors at 80 middle and high schools, reduce class size in eighth and ninth grade, transform campuses into small learning communities and enhance ongoing dropout prevention efforts.

It builds on the district’s continuing initiatives that include requiring all students to take classes that meet college entrance requirements (also known as A-G courses) and increasing the graduation rate with the Diploma Project.

Increasing student safety is a major priority in the proposed budget, with more than $643 million targeted to provide safe and modern schools for students.

This includes more than $2 million to maintain campus aides at this year’s level despite reductions in federal funding.

Although state revenues increased as a result of the improving economy, California’s funding in education continues to fall behind other states.

The State of California spends thousands of dollars per-student less than the highest spending states, according to national reports.

For example, the National Center for Education Statistics ranks California 44th among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia (D.C.) in per-student spending when adjusted for inflation.

The funds that the district is receiving from the state are primarily restricted and only available on a one-time basis.

A small percentage of new money allows for the district’s discretionary use.

“While the improving economy has enabled the state to increase funding to education, we would prefer greater flexibility in the use of the available funds so that we can concentrate funding in areas addressing the most crucial needs of our students,” said Romer.

The superintendent’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2006-07 includes funding to provide standards-based instruction for all students, expand professional development for teachers and expand the arts program to more schools.

Incentives to recruit and retain qualified math, science and special education teachers are also included in the proposed budget for the first time.

Additional funding priorities in the proposed budget include:

n $340 million to provide student health and human services;

n $193 million for student transportation; and

n $46 million to strengthen parent involvement.

“I am proud of the fact that my proposed budget is balanced and that LAUSD is on financially sound ground, exceeding standards set by Wall Street,” said Romer.

The superintendent’s 2006-07 Provisional Budget is one of the steps in the development of the 2006-07 LAUSD financial plan.

The board of education is expected to vote on the budget on or before Friday, June 30th.

The superintendent’s Provisional Budget becomes the District’s official budget with the adoption of the Final Budget in August.