Education

L.A. and Unions at Impasse Over Budget Cutbacks

By Peter Schmidt — September 25, 1991 3 min read
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Negotiations between the Los Angeles Unified School District and its employee unions reached an impasse last week as the two sides haggled over a final budget containing the steepest cutbacks the schools there have seen in a decade.

Most of the cuts were determined Sept. 10 when the board of education passed a $3.9-billion final budget that eliminated more than 2,300 jobs and reduced funding for programs by $276 million.

The final budget assumes, however, that an additional $122 million in as-yet-unspecified spending cuts will be made.

As district officials sought to bring the budget into line through additional pay cuts, representatives of the district’s eight bargaining units refused to make new pay concessions.

“If anyone is wondering, it’s a disaster here. Teachers here already have taken an incredibly severe cut,” Helen Bernstein, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, said last week.

“Talks in the traditional sense have come to the end of the road,” she added.

Both Ms. Bernstein and Diana Munatones, director of communications for the district, predicted that mediators would have to be brought in.

The negotiations had been complicated by the prospect that the school board would be able to work with an additional $88 million that originally had been slated for payment into the State Teachers Retirement Fund. (‘See Education Week, Sept. 18, 1991 .)

But Gov. Pete Wilson last week vetoed a bill that would have allowed the Los Angeles and San Francisco districts to postpone their payments into the fund. He called the bill an attempt to circumvent procedures for getting state aid.

Classroom Costs Targeted

The Los Angeles school board approved the final 1991-92 budget on a 6-to-O ote, but members showed little enthusiasm for the spending plan that they had hammered out over six months.

“This is not a budget I’m proud to adopt,” one board member, Leticia Quezada, said at the final budget hearing.

The budget is $135 million less than last year’s spending plan, largely as a result of a sharp drop in funding from the state, which provides 75 percent of the district’s annual revenue and this year faced a $14-billion deficit of its own.

The district has had to cut a total of $650 million, or 16 percent of its total budget, since 1989. Most of the reductions before this year were taken from expenditures outside of the classroom.

This year, by contrast, about 1,800 probationary teachers were laid off and class sizes were increased by two students in elementary schools and three students in junior high schools and high schools.

Teachers were not alone in feeling the pain of budget cuts, Ms. Munatenes, the district spokesman, pointed out. Eleven division heads and more than 220 other executive and management positions have been eliminated.

The district also reduced funding for counselors, custodians, school security officers, athletic programs, and classroom supplies and materials.

In addition, the board approved a one-time, $5.85-million suspension of payments into the district’s deferred-maintenance program, thus sacrificing state matching funds.

Across-the-Board Pay Cut?

The additional union concessions being sought by Superintendent of Schools William R. Anton include a 3 percent, across-the-board pay cut, for $50 million in savings, and $72 million in other employee-contract changes, such as an unpaid furlough of five days and freezes in experience-based salary increases.

Ms. Bernstein of the teachers’ union said some teachers could see their annual pay reduced by 7 percent if the district’s demands are met.

She added, however, that she did not perceive Mr. Anton as having the full backing of the school board as he seeks new contract concessions. The board has not made its position clear, the union chief asserted, and may be re-examining the cuts proposed by district officials.

Ms. Munatones said the board approved the additional cuts being proposed by Mr. Anton. She acknowledged, however, that the board still must vote to implement the final budget, and could recommend additional budget revisions during the contract talks.

Meanwhile, a separate task force of union and district officials last week was continuing its long-term examination of the district’s health-insurance program to determine if it could be changed to save additional money.

A version of this article appeared in the September 25, 1991 edition of Education Week as L.A. and Unions at Impasse Over Budget Cutbacks

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