Cuts Forcing Districts To Subtract Staff, Divide Burden

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For many school-district officials, preparing for the new school year has been a lesson in subtraction.

Faced with sharp reductions in state and local funding, districts in turn have had to take away teaching and administrative positions, academic programs, and other items in their budgets.

Now, observers say, the lesson in division begins as administrators, teachers' unions, and other groups haggle over who will bear the brunt of budget cuts.

"The financial circumstances for this upcoming school year look bleak indeed," said Michael D. Casserly, associate director of the Council of the Great City Schools. He added that the overall financial outlook for urban districts had worsened over the past month. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .)

Cash-strapped state legislatures, he said, have made further reductions in their allocations of education aid.

"The reports that are just coming out of various state organizations," Mr. Casserly said, "indicate that the state budgets are becoming ever tighter, and, in some ways, the education-reform process is faltering because of financial considerations." (See related story, page 29.)

Los Angeles Sees New Cuts

Patrick F. Spencer, a spokesman for the especially hard-hit Los Angeles Unified School District, said his district has had to cut $700 million from its budget over the past 18 months and still needs to negotiate $120 million worth of salary cuts with employee unions.

"This year it really wasn't possible to protect anything," Mr. Spencer said. "Schools were hit much harder than they were in the past."

Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second-largest school district, already had cut $241 million from its budget for this year when it received word last month of an additional $33-million shortfall due mostly to state cuts in funding.

School officials estimated that the new shortfall would mean the elimination of about 880 more jobs, on top of the 1,470 positions already cut or left vacant this year.

The school beard last month approved increasing the average elementary-school class size to 30 students, from 27, but backed away from plans to lay off 29 guidance counselors after emotional appeals from school administrators.

The district is negotiating with its employee unions on plans for possible 3 percent pay cuts, but leaders of the United Teachers of Los Angeles have said they will resist any additional salary cuts and layoffs.

Exaggerated Estimates?

In New York City, the beard of education managed to wrest an additional $32 million from the city government by threatening to sue it under the state's Stavisky-Goedman law, which requires the proportion of the city budget spent on education to meet or exceed the average percentage spent over the past three years.

The beard still has to cut $430 million from its budget. It plans to accomplish the cuts by offering early retirement to 4,000 teachers--only 2,000 of whom will be replaced by younger, lower-paid recruits--and by declining to rehire 500 to 700 new temporary teachers, a spokesman said.

City officials have maintained, however, that the district has been exaggerating its layoff estimates in an attempt to gain more funding.

The United Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, has announced that it will take the unusual step of withholding its endorsements of city council candidates in this month's primaries to protest the council's cuts in funding for schools.

D.C. Targets 300 Jobs

Among the steps being proposed or taken by other districts that have been hit by the recession:

  • The Dade County, Fla., school system, in an effort to cut its budget by $136 million, has had to freeze teacher salaries for the year, eliminate the seventh period of classes in middle and high schools, cut regional curriculum coordinators, and increase property taxes by 8 percent. A final board vote on the budget is expected this week.
  • The Chicago school board, faced with a deficit of up to $160 million, late last month decided to close six schools. The move was seen as an attempt to prod $90 million in salary concessions from employee unions.
  • Franklin L. Smith, the new superintendent of the District of Columbia schools, has proposed eliminating up to 300 positions in an attempt to trim the system's bureaucracy and bring its $519-million budget into balance.
  • Boston's new schools chief, Lois Harrison-Jones, who has been working to close a deficit of almost $20 million in the district's $379-million budget, last month squared off with the district's bus drivers by refusing the pay increase they had sought.
  • The Cleveland Board of Education has been able to call back 91 of 226 teachers slated for layoffs, but it still must grapple with a $12-million deficit in devising its $377-million budget for the new fiscal year.

The Bridgeport, Conn., school system, however, was spared predicted financial headaches last month when a judge denied the city government's petition for bankruptcy.

The financially sound district, which feared its credit rating would be damaged by a city bankruptcy, is seeking to avoid fallout from the cites woes by forging a financial partnership with the state.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 8

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Cuts Forcing Districts To Subtract Staff, Divide Burden
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