School Board Frees Frozen $60 Million

Budget: Money had been set aside fro teachers contract settlement. It will pay for books, hiring of teacher aides and bilingual programs.

The Los Angeles Unified School District on Monday freed up $60 million for textbooks, supplies and bilingual education programs that was frozen last March in a controversial move to set aside money in case it was needed to pay for the teachers contract settlement.

The action, which will allow schools to resume buying classroom books and hiring teacher aides, came as the Board of Education unanimously approved its $3.9-billion final budget for the 1993-94 fiscal year.

The tightly balanced budget restores an about $33-million emergency reserve fund that had been wiped out last spring to cover a midyear deficit.

“We just barely balanced this budget — we are not that solvent,” said Supt. Sid Thompson. “We are barely solvent is the way to describe it.”

Thompson also said he has partially lifted a districtwide hiring freeze imposed last year that at one point left 1,000 non-teaching positions vacant. Although the freeze still covers the district’s central administration, schools will be able to hire clerical workers and fill other vacant posts. Thompson said he also hopes to fill school police vacancies.

“The schools and our students endured the pain of those freezes and it affected everyone,” Thompson said. “But without those freezes we would not have made it.”

Despite a $143-million deficit this fiscal year, the district managed to stave off layoffs and deep program cuts that have marked budget deliberations for the past five years. The most visible loss to schools was the elimination of 100 janitorial positions.

Before passing the budget, school board members thanked teachers and district employees who suffered a 10% pay cut this year. The stinging salary cut held the district on the brink of a teachers strike last school year. The strike was averted when the district reduced a proposed 12% cut to 10%.

“This is bittersweet,” board member Warren Furutani said before the vote. “We know the burden this has been on our employees and know the sacrifices that have been made.”

Budget director Henry Jones said several major money-saving moves the district imposed last year, including the hiring freeze and a new employee health plan, allowed officials to bridge a potential $143-million deficit. Employee health expenses were about $43 million less than budgeted.

Jones said he expects the Los Angeles County Office of Education to upgrade the district’s financial rating, which was notched downward last spring when the district was scrambling to find $35 million to pay for the teachers contract.

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