By Nick Diamantides
Parents of children who attend public schools in the Long Beach area can expect to see fewer teachers and programs as a result of an ongoing budget crisis. Last week (November 3) voters in Long Beach soundly rejected Measure T– a proposed parcel tax that would have brought $12 million in revenues to the Long Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD) coffers every year for five years.
The proposed $92-a-year parcel tax brought only 32,000 voters to the polls, and about 57 percent of them voted against it. LBUSD operates schools in Long Beach, Signal Hill, Catalina Island and parts of Lakewood.
“We still have a $90 million hole in our budget,” said Chris Eftychiou, LBUSD public information director. “Unlike the federal government, we are not allowed to print money, so we have to find a way to balance our budget while still giving kids the best education possible.”
Eftychiou noted that most of LBUSD’s expenditures go to salaries and benefits, and reducing those expenditures will almost certainly require layoffs. “There are some difficult decisions ahead for our school board,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we are asking 900 teachers to confirm their seniority. He added that the district will probably have to reduce the number of teachers and other staff that it employs.
“We already have 244 jobs fewer than last year,” he said, noting that the reduction was due to attrition as well as layoffs. He explained that an up-to-date seniority list comes into play when a school district is considering layoffs in any significant number. “Most school districts in California have recently updated their seniority lists or are working on updating them because we are all in the same boat right now,” he said. He explained that the development of such a list entails looking at each teacher’s work experience, credentials and education. “That information changes continually as teachers receive new training,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the most up-to-date information available. It’s important to have a defensible, accurate list because you are talking about people’s livelihoods.”
Eftychiou said preparing for layoffs and deciding who will get the pink slip is a painful process for school administrators, but it is necessary. “We are not receiving any reassurances that the funding situation is going to improve any time soon at the state level,” he said.
Eftychiou added that LBUSD officials are gearing up for intense discussions with the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB), the union that represents the teachers. “The failure of Measure T will make bargaining with TALB all that much more difficult because the union will work to protect its interests, which is understandable,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the district and the teacher’s union are now left to figure out how to plug this budget hole without additional resources.”
Eftychiou explained that the layoffs would result in more pupils per class. “It’s most likely to affect the primary grades where we have worked hard to protect smaller class sizes,” he said. “We just aren’t sure how much longer we can hold on. We have small class sizes of 20 students in grades K through three at the moment.”
He added that many other school districts in the state with similar class sizes have recently begun to increase the number of students per class. “We have held off on that because parents have told us that they really value those smaller class sizes and the individualized attention that can be paid to students in those classes,” Eftychiou said. “But it is an expensive proposition.”
He said the district was also considering cutting back some of the programs that it is not required by law to maintain. “Everything will be on the table for the Board of Education,” he said. “Class sizes for the primary students could go to as high as 35 students. Programs not legally required include sports, music, after-school programs, and the arts.”
Eftychiou noted that the $90-million deficit is for the next two years. “Our operating budget right now is approximately $718 million,” he added. “We have already cut $100 million over the past five years, so you are looking at $190 million in cuts total.” LBUSD approved $24 million of those budget reductions this past April.
The cuts resulted in suspension of the outdoor science camp, fewer summer school programs, and more layoffs. “When you do the math, you realize that about 85 percent of our funding goes into paying for our employees, you start to realize that our board has very few options,” Eftychiou said. “We are still America’s best urban school district and we plan to stay that way. We just haven’t quite figured out how we are going to pay for it.”