Los Angeles Unified school board tentatively approves pay raise for teachers

By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News

The Los Angeles Unified school board Tuesday unanimously voted in favor of a 10.36 percent pay raise for teachers, granting tentative approval of the deal that now faces a vote by members of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Immediately after the vote, school board members appeared alongside union leaders, championing the tentative agreement during a conference outside board chambers.

“This is the beginning of a moment where we are about to say to our teachers, both ‘thank you’ and ‘I believe in you,’ ” board member Steve Zimmer said.

Union members will vote between May 1 and 7 on whether to approve the deal. Votes will be tallied May 8. If teachers agree, the school board is expected to vote on finalizing the agreement May 12.

Pay raises alone will cost LAUSD more than $171 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

All in, district officials estimate the package will create a projected deficit of $140 million in 2015-16 and $419 million in 2016-17. LAUSD’s operating budget for the current fiscal year is $7.27 billion.

Board members are hoping revised revenue figures, set to be released by the state next month, will bring an additional $220 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

But should the revised revenues fail to meet expectations, board member Monica Ratliff said the district will have a tough time making ends meet.

“We’re going to have to come up with an alternative plan in case the May revise does not pan out, and that will probably include program cuts and layoffs, modifications, things like that,” Ratliff said.

Earlier this year, LAUSD sent layoff notices to 609 educators, including teachers and counselors. Those educators could lose their jobs if the district fails to close its budget deficit.

The district also plans to eliminate its popular preschool program. Cutting the program, with the 11,000 students it serves, in half next year will save the district $16 million. It would be eliminated the following year at a $32 million savings.

Board member George McKenna said he expects LAUSD will be OK for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and again in 2016-17. But projections for the 2017-18 fiscal year still need to be worked out, he said.

“For three-year budgets, we can always fix it for the two and negotiate for the third,” McKenna said.

While the agreement only guarantees a fraction of the additional teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians UTLA demanded, President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the union has set realistic expectations for hiring additional teachers in future years.

Class-size caps will remain high in the upcoming school year under the contract because the district has declared a fiscal emergency, Caputo-Pearl said. But the following year the maximum number of students allowed in a class will be reduced, he said.

Should the district decide it can’t afford to meet the class-size maximums negotiated under contract in 2016-17, UTLA will be able to legally contest the issue, Caputo-Pearl said.

The process will also require meetings between LAUSD and UTLA, he said.

“We know that it’s a multiyear campaign we’re going to have to be involved in to drive class sizes down,” Caputo-Pearl said. “But the first step is having class-size averages and caps in the contract.”

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