The LAUSD Board approved an $8.2 billion budget Tuesday for the 2018-2019 school year that failed to set aside any money to pay for future retiree healthcare liabilities that top $15 billion. But Superintendent Austin Beutner suggested change is coming.
While next year’s budget was largely crafted before he took the job, the 2019-2020 budget “has to look a lot different than this budget,” Beutner said, adding that the structural deficit “threatens the district’s long-term financial viability.”
LAUSD is spending about half a billion more dollars every year than it generates in revenue and is burning through its reserves. Nevertheless, it managed to budget in employee raises, in part, by planning to cut its central district staff by 15 percent.
“This budget is irresponsible and does not put the needs of the kids first,” Speak UP’s Jalisa Johnson, a former teacher, told the Board. “In this budget, more money is actually going to pay for retired teachers’ pension and healthcare than to pay for math and English instruction for LAUSD students. This is unacceptable. The purpose of education is to teach our kids. If that’s not our top priority, we’re doing something wrong.”
The annual per pupil cost of employee health benefits has grown from $1500 in 2009 to $2966 in 2021, the final year of the three-year budget the district created, according to CFO Scott Price. The total liability stands at $26,000 per pupil, more than twice that of San Francisco Unified and far above the $1500 average for other districts in the state.
The district’s own Independent Analysis Unit has warned that it cannot afford to pay as it goes for these liabilities and still have enough money left to educate kids in the near future. The next budget has to do more for students most in need, Beutner said.
It should also focus on decentralization, and “the entire system has to be transparent and accountable at every level,” he said.
The Board tabled until July a decision on whether to place a parcel tax on the ballot this year to help tackle the budget deficit. That followed a long debate over polling data that district officials said suggested it would be more likely to pass in 2020.
Board Members Kelly Gonez (BD6) and Nick Melvoin (BD4) also passed two resolutions they co-sponsored to help more students attend college. One would provide free SAT or ACT tests to all students during the school day. The other would set up college savings account with seed money funded by the city.
Also at the meeting, Speak UP member Paul Robak asked the Board to subsidize the $56 fee charged to parents to pay for fingerprinting before they are allowed to volunteer in schools, arguing that the cost to the district would be minimal, while the benefit to parents in poverty would be great.