The Los Angeles Unified School District board unanimously approved a $7.27 billion operating budget today for the 2014-15 school year, with board members hailing a turn-around in the district's financial picture.
"I just can't tell you ... sitting up here last year cumulatively having to cut $2 billion, that was awful," board President Richard Vladovic said. "That was just awful because we were talking about people and their lives. Now we're looking at adding and doing some things that we know are going to help children. What a difference a year makes."
The board reviewed the budget at a meeting last week and made no major changes, with the exception of Superintendent John Deasy agreeing to find $500,000 to preserve the district's family literacy program, which offers English-language training to students and parents.
Board members were equally agreeable today, generally praising the budget, while recognizing that the issue of salaries for teachers remains a topic of union negotiations.
"Those negotiations are going on literally as we adopt this (budget) today," board member Steve Zimmer said.
At the onset of the meeting, Alex Caputo-Pearl, the incoming president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents LAUSD teachers, called on the district to do more to address reduction in class sizes and restore salaries for teachers and employees who took pay cuts during lean budget years.
"Asking for salary restoration, just restoring the cuts that we took to keep the district afloat ... asking for that isn't radical," Caputo-Pearl said. "And asking for something on top of that that helps us cut against the 20 percent cost-of-living increase over the last five years is not radical or crazy either, and that's what we're asking for."
Zimmer offered his thanks to district employees who sacrificed during the district's years of budget woes.
"Although we don't get to restore everything today, although we don't get to do all of the making people whole that we would want to do today, this is a very significant step," he said.
According to the union, the district has offered a 2 percent raise for all teachers for the current school year, with another 2 percent increase next year. UTLA officials have been seeking a 17.6 percent salary increase over several years.
The LAUSD will receive an extra $334 million from the state in the coming year under the Local Control Funding Formula, which Deasy said in his budget transmittal to the board "is now the primary means of funding K-12 education across the state."
"For the first time, the state is using a need-based model to fund school districts, and we proudly support this model and the funding it brings to our highest-need students," he wrote to the board.
Some opponents have questioned whether the budget does enough to help students in need. Board member Bennett's Kayser had been pushing for stepped-up funding for early education, but he agreed to delay a resolution last week that would have earmarked $10 million for such programs in the coming year. That same resolution included the call for funding to maintain the family literacy program, and Deasy agreed to find the $500,000 to keep that program alive.
Deasy told the board today that while the financial situation has improved, there is always room for more.
"The total agreement, I think, with the community and with the district is we can always use more money. and I think that is actually spot on," he said. "We are still woefully, woefully, inadequately funded compared to the rest of the country for the students."
But Deasy praised the work being done in the district to produce students prepared for college and the workforce.
"I could not be more proud of the general background students are going into the workforce with, and this budget continues to support that," he said. "Every single member of LAUSD contributes to that. Every single member. ... There is no one member of this family of employees that we can do without. As a matter of fact, we need more of all of them."
--City News Service