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Los Angeles schools chief Austin Beutner, center, now has emergency powers to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

An “Economy of Care” or of Institutional Protection?

Now we have seen manifest the power of budgets.

In the wake of the profoundly inequitable calamity of Covid19, has grown an international paroxysm that Black Lives Matter. In Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti is calling for “$250 million in cuts from city departments, including the LAPD, … steer[ing] the funds to invest in job programs, health initiatives and other services supporting the Black community and other communities of color.” And since it is the city council that is in charge of the purse, more weighty still is a resolution from Council President Martinez co-introduced with CD10’s Wesson and CD9’s Price instructing identification of least $100m-$150m to be cut specifically from LAPD’s budget.

So it is that a budget is proverbially “a political document”: what politics are reflected in Superintendent Beutner’s Revised May 2020 Budget for LAUSD?

The teacher’s union board, UTLA, has voted to reallocate school police funding.

So it is that a budget is proverbially “a political document”: what politics are reflected in Superintendent Beutner’s Revised May 2020 Budget for LAUSD?

A plan to prioritize savings that squeeze individual students, teachers and the service offered by the District, while protecting the core administrative function of the institution itself. Failing to search out or advocate for funding already promised by other institutions and government shifts the burden onto the individuals at the bottom of the totem pole whose labor is dismissed.

Presented revisions

On May 19, 2020 LAUSD’s board of education (BOE) heard from Chief Financial Officer David Hart (video @ 1:34m, slides here).

Following the 3-year (schoolyear) SY 2022-23 budget modified by Covid-19 realities, a $1.7b deficit is forecast (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  May 19, 2020 LAUSD budget update, slide p.13

Figure 1: May 19, 2020 LAUSD budget update, slide p.13

But there are important manipulations to the budget before adjustments ever are even suggested to the deficit:

a) Employ a little speculative positivism revising the enrollment guesstimate upward. A 0.3% “improvement in the forecast for loss of enrollment” translates to $286m “found”.


b) Squeeze a little blood from our bedrock schools. Internal budgets – i.e., school budgets – are negotiable and chimeric in contrast with, say, outside vendors’ contracts. By “scrubbing the budget for ‘budget-to-actual variances’ and having conversation with budget holders [we] believe that dollars currently allocated need not be; …budgets can be tightened and that will bring back to the table an additional $407m.”

Then come the offsets and accounting fanciness ‘below-the-line’ because previous budgetary expenditures “were just set-aside dollars for consideration”.

A. Rollover funds used as a reserve are drawn down.

Directly effecting school-site “front-line” teachers and staff, claw back money from:

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B. Strike concessions on salary and support staff additions (“compensation reserves”).

C. Health and welfare contract reserves (employer-paid health benefits?).

D. Retirement benefits (OPEB).

And then impacting students directly, money committed for just one year can be withdrawn subsequently by:

E. Reneging on our “intentional investment” in the “Primary Promise” of transitional kindergarten.

Last there is creative speculation:

F. Sell some land assets (an “opportunity for us to assess what would be considered non-school property, property that can’t be optimized for the purpose of bringing education”).

So this budget rests a world of pain “below stairs” at the school-site among the students, families, teachers and staff who carry the base-weight of the institution. It is “the set-asides or reserves that could have gone toward compensation [that are recommended] instead applied to offset the deficit”. Even while the institutional Capital and its holders are very lightly squeezed.

Which is to say: what isn’t called for matters. Because not accounting for revenue, amounts to a blueprint for extracting missing dollars through cuts elsewhere, in this case at the bottom. Through threat to staffing, instruction, salary and benefits; assets sold.

There is some keening heard at the board meeting from LAUSD’s one-time policy makers, emasculated by the pandemic emergency orders transferring all management to Superintendent Beutner. And despite their fury, there is no prescription for protecting individuals and holding the institutions accountable.

  • Sacramento is accurately understood as the wellspring from which more money must be begged. Nearly 90% of LAUSD’s “Local Control Funding Formula” is after all state-based (Figure 2). However line items in the model presented are readily qualified as very fluid, changing wildly from day to day or unknown altogether. These significantly underestimate independent calculations of net funding gain poised to offset state funding cuts with federal stimulus funding. A net gain in external funds is ‘money on the table’. Failing to advocate for or pick this up amounts to failure in forestalling budget, contract and compensation “adjustments”. It prioritizes institution over individual.
Figure 2:  Relative distribution of LAUSD funding source, federal-state-local.

Figure 2: Relative distribution of LAUSD funding source, federal-state-local.

  • Similarly per pupil spending is complained to be approximately half New York State’s and modeled as 5% lower for SY 2021-22 than this past (SY 2019-20) year’s (Figure 3). And meanwhile the proportion of moderate/severe SELPA costs have risen 42% as a function of overall ADA in the decade from 2008-2019 even while enrollment loss has shrunk ADA by 14% overall. Unfunded mandates are part of the financial crisis exposed by the Covid emergency. Salvage of these costs through petition of state and federal funding ought to be the central imperative of LAUSD fiscal management. Instead funding disparities and inequities are lamented as unfortunate without a strong plan for redress. Reflected is LAUSD’s own structural bias prioritizing the institution at the expense of individuals who will absorb the inequity. It reflects the explanation in a broader context for a “plan to save Capital and let the people die.”
Figure 3: Increasing proportion of costs at LAUSD, 2008-2019 (derived from 051920 revised budget presentation, slide p. 10)

Figure 3: Increasing proportion of costs at LAUSD, 2008-2019 (derived from 051920 revised budget presentation, slide p. 10)

Sara Roos
Los Angeles Education Exchange