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Cost Controls, Pay Cuts, More Funds Prescribed for L.A.

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An independent commission last week concluded that the Los Angeles Unified School District need not impose the "drastic'' employee salary cuts of up to 17.5 percent that had been proposed as a way of closing the district's budget gap, but it warned that some salary reductions will be necessary.

The commission, chaired by John K. Van de Kamp, a former California attorney general, spent three weeks examining the district's finances.

The panel identified nearly $100 million in potential savings that could be realized through a combination of budget cuts and measures to increase the district's revenues, including a campaign to reduce student absenteeism.

Incentives Urged

The report recommends that the district begin incentive programs that would enable its employees to benefit personally from most cost-cutting steps.

The board of education met every day last week to analyze the commission's recommendations. Superintendent William R. Anton and the board members also pledged to adopt as many of the recommendations as they could.

"Our reaction is immediately to get to the bargaining table and let's use this to try and hammer out some kind of settlement we can live with this year,'' said Catherine M. Carey, a spokeswoman for the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

The report calls for the district to "impose extraordinary cost controls'' this year, starting with the hiring freeze that began earlier this month and a freeze on buying instructional materials.

Currently, the district has 619 teaching vacancies that are being filled by substitute teachers. But most substitutes are needed when teachers take sick days, the report says, noting that these part-time employees, who are eligible for full health benefits, are expensive.

To cut costs, it recommends that the district begin an incentive plan to encourage its employees only to take sick leave when it is medically necessary. Under the plan, teachers would get bonuses for using less sick leave and could roll the unused days over into the next year.

The report also suggests that the district reduce the amount it has budgeted for health benefits, workers' compensation, and insurance claims.

Other Suggestions

It also recommends launching an incentive program for schools to reduce their utility costs that would allow them to receive bonuses.

To increase its revenues, the commission suggests that the district develop a "high-visibility program'' to decrease absentee rates. High rates cost the schools money because their state aid is based upon their enrollments.

A 1 percent increase in attendance, the report says, would yield $20 million. New money from the increased attendance could be split between a bonus pool for employees and individual schools whose attendance has gone up.

It also proposes raising money by having school police issue traffic citations around schools and funding recreation programs through a tax on tickets to professional sporting events.

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