07/04/2022

Happy talk belies L.A. Unified’s grim financial picture

The board of the Los Angeles Unified School District passed a $7.5 billion 2017-18 budget this week on a 5-1 vote with Superintendent Michelle King touting the fact that the spending plan doesn’t include teacher layoffs or significant classroom disruptions.

But despite the upbeat rhetoric, a crisis is looming in the nation’s second-largest school district as enrollment falls from a projected 514,000 in 2017 to 480,000 in 2020. Since the state’s main education funding formula is based on average daily attendance, this could force mass layoffs of teachers or even drastic measures like shortening the school year. A $422 million deficit is anticipated in 2019-20, with red ink after that for as far as the eye can see.

None of this comes as any surprise. A blue-ribbon commission’s report issued in November 2015 said L.A. Unified was facing fiscal disaster because of the enrollment declines, which are primarily due to falling birth rates, and because of the cost of pensions and retiree health care benefits. Employee retirement benefits will claim 8 percent of the school budget in 2017-18 and more than double that sum in coming years as the state’s2014 bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System ratchets up required payments from districts and as more of the district’s aging workforce retires.

These costs are the primary reason that while the 2017-18 LAUSD budget is nearly 7 percent larger than for the just-concluded school year, the plan still only penciled out after 121 layoffs or “separations,” mostly for holders of clerical positions. About 180 employees will be reassigned, many to part-time duties.

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