LAUSD freezes hiring, purchases
By George Sanchez, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 11/13/2008 10:53:54 PM PST
While the cost-saving measures are temporary for now, they could lead to closing small schools, combining continuation programs and reducing administrative staff sizes if the crisis worsens, said Senior Deputy Superintendent Ramon Cortines. He is also considering "taxing" every department, meaning a percentage of department budgets will be slashed to address looming budget cuts.
"I've got to find a way to deal with a $200(million) to $300million midyear cut, or we won't make payroll," he said.
Cortines announced the purchasing freeze Monday in a memo sent to all schools and district offices. Only purchases for health, safety, legal requirements, school construction and school lunches will be allowed.
"This does not mean that I do not trust your judgment and respect your ability to make wise decisions, but these are unpredictable times and we need a few days to assess where we are financially for the 2009-2010 school year and beyond," Cortines wrote.
Megan Reilly, the LAUSD's chief financial officer, explained: "This freeze is asking to stop all spending so we can do an assessment of where we stand in preparation for massive budget cuts."
Mike O'Sullivan, president of the district's principals union, said the memo surprised employees. "We understand the need to reduce expenditures. There's a need to see the district's financial standing, but what's really disturbing was the nature of how it was done," O'Sullivan said.
Those with district credit cards should have been notified earlier, O'Sullivan said, adding that it is unclear how long the freeze will last.
The purchasing freeze should not change day-to-day school operations, Cortines said, noting that essential programs, supplies and even training will continue.
"I'm asking people to use judgment and wisdom on what is essential," he explained.
Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed cutting state spending by $4.5billion for the current year. More than half of the cuts would come from education.
"He made this recommendation based on the assumption that he'd get approval for a tax increase," said Cortines. "If he doesn't get that approval, the midyear cuts could go up as high as $350million."
LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer III has warned that the governor's cuts could lead to school closures. School districts throughout the state are facing similar tough choices.
"It's not only logical, it's necessary," said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies. "There's a lot more coming, and there will be more pain because it's in the middle of the year."
Before last week's announcement, the LAUSD was facing $188million in cuts from the approved 2008-09 state budget. District officials said in October that dire financial straits would effectively end the small-class-size initiative next year.
District officials will meet today to discuss the freeze and budget options, Reilly said.
Facing a projected cut of $700million over the next three years, Cortines said cuts will first happen at LAUSD headquarters, then district offices, and last at schools. But with 80 percent of the budget going to staffers, there's only so much he can cut.
"Even if we closed down (LAUSD headquarters), it wouldn't be $400million," Cortines said.
Point Fermin Elementary School opened originally in 1912. Currently there are approximately 292 students attending the school and it is a site designated as able to receive more students.
This school is a true 'neighborhood' school but it will also welcome a Marine Sciences Magnet program. The students there are watching their test scores rise and the faculty and staff offer an excellent education, even with the problems the campus is currently facing.
Voters recently rewarded LAUSD with a Seven Billion Dollar 'gift of funds' in a bond measure that will take 32 years to pay back.
The District was also recently awarded $274,000 for 'emergency repairs'.
It looks like OUR community has another fight on its hands if OUR community values keeping Point Fermin Elementary School open. Quite a bit of money has already been spent improving the campus and making it ready to succeed with its Magnet program.
Sometimes laws need to be changed in order to benefit everyone. Laws and regulations dealing with how the Measure Q bond money must be spent needs to be changed, right now!
Protecting what we have seems to be an improvement over building campuses we don't necessarily need or want.
It may require a longer sacrifice from folks dealing with San Pedro High School or perhaps just the addition of one building could help the problems there, without costing $102 Million Dollars.
It may come to pass that much of the Q bond money must go to protect and improve campuses the District already has, during these tough economic times.
I am willing to help keep Point Fermin Elementary School open. Are you?