Calif. Legislature Backs Two Measures To Aid Fiscally Strapped Urban Districts

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As California schools opened this month to the threat of additional teacher layoffs, the legislature has passed two measures designed to ease the pain of budget cuts for some large urban districts.

Gov. Pete Wilson last week had not taken a stand on the more controversial of the bills, an emergency measure allowing the Los Angeles and San Francisco school districts to postpone payments into the State Teachers Retirement System for six months.

The legislation, which would enable Los Angeles to temporarily save $88 million and San Francisco $6 million, narrowly passed the Assembly this month by a vote of 41 to 30, the minimum margin required for approval. It earlier had won easy acceptance in the Senate.

Governor Wilson has signed the other bill, which permits San Francisco and San Mateo county authorities to hold referendums on increasing local sales taxes to fund schools.

The pension-payment bill would allow the Los Angeles and San Francisco districts to defer their normal 8.25 percent employer contribution to the State Teachers Retirement System for the first six months of 1992.

The districts then would be required te contribute to the fund at their standard rate for six months. After that, they would pay the retirement fund at 8.5 percent over 20 years te make up for the deferred contributions.

The bill also provides for an early retirement program designed to save money by encouraging long-term employees at the top of the pay scale to retire.

"If this bill is not signed, 1,000 teachers in California will no longer be contributing members to the State Teachers Retirement System. They will be laid off," said the sponsor of the measure, Assemblyman Dave Elder.

"We want to keep those teachers working, contributing to the retirement system and contributing to the education of our kids," Mr. Eider argued.

The measure was backed by Speaker of the House Willie Lewis Brown Jr. and President Pro Tem of the Senate David Reberti.

Critics in the legislature said the measure would constitute a raid on the retirement system that would set a bad precedent and hurt retired teachers.

The Los Angeles district created its financial problems and should be left the task of resolving them, argued Assemblyman Ross Johnson.

District, Union Back Bill

Both Los Angeles district officials and leaders of the United Teachers of Los Angeles backed the bailout legislation.

District officials said they would use the additional funds primarily to restore teaching positions and programs that had been cut from the budget.

A spokesman for the U.T.L.A. said the union wants the money to be used to fund early retirements and hire back teachers. Union officials do not plan to ask that the money be used to fund current teacher salaries, which the district has proposed cutting.

Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines of San Francisco last week expressed ambivalence about the bailout measure.

"I did not request it and really could care less if it signed," Mr. Cortines said, adding, "It is money you have to pay back and have to pay back with interest."

In a letter to his district's board of education, Mr. Cortines urged that any money made available by the legislation be used to create a reserve fund, which the district now lacks. To do anything else, he said, "would be totally irresponsible."

Mr. Cortines also showed little enthusiasm for the bill allowing local referendums on a quarter-cent sales-tax increase in San Francisco County and a half-cent increase in San Mateo County to fund schools.

Mr. Cortines said the measure was passed too late to keep the district from making dramatic cutbacks this year, and may have been passed too late for San Francisco County to put it on the November ballot. It comes on the heels of a large state sales-tax increase passed by the legislature this summer, which observers say lessens the chance that voters will approve a further tax hike.

Vol. 11, Issue 03, Page 21

Published in Print: September 18, 1991, as Calif. Legislature Backs Two Measures To Aid Fiscally Strapped Urban Districts
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