Los Angeles Schools To Shorten School Year

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The Los Angeles school district has decided to save $140 million by furloughing teachers this year and next year. Officials also voted to shorten the school year by one week. The deal, which still needs to be ratified by the teachers' union, will save approximately 2,000 jobs.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Now that the country's second largest school district is facing a very large deficit, it says it has to make a tough choice: cut schools or cut jobs. Los Angeles Unified wants to try the former - cutting its school year by a week. That would save the district an estimated $140 million by furloughing teachers this year and next. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, of member station KPCC, reports.

ADOLFO GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Los Angeles High School is L.A. Unified's oldest high school. In a classroom, under painted laurel wreaths circling names of notable graduates, a dozen teachers met during lunch behind closed doors. Teacher Rebecca Solomon said it was a meeting devoted entirely to the proposal to cut the academic year.

Ms. REBECCA SOLOMON (Teacher): I think everyone feels really strongly about the importance of saving jobs and reducing class size. And I think that's kind of our number - the very first thing is to recognize that.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Another on-campus teacher meeting is planned in preparation for a binding vote next week by all teachers union members. Students have been talking about the plan too - eliciting whoops of approval from many, said L.A. High senior Andrew Kim.

Mr. ANDREW KIM (Student, Los Angeles High School): I mean, from what I hear, everyone likes - kind of the idea that, you know, they get five days off, seven days off. And that's kind of like the cool way to think, I guess. But, I mean, I'm sure a lot of kids are also thinking, you know, these are days that teachers aren't being paid for and made to take off. And so a part of them, you know, likes the idea. A part of them doesn't like the idea.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Teachers wouldn't be paid for the furlough days. The shortened school year would mean graduation dates would have to move. L.A. High history teacher Felicia Perez.

Ms. FELICIA PEREZ (Los Angeles High School): It now has to be moved up a week. But that also means that our seniors have to move up their finals a week, which means that the preparation for their finals gets moved up a week or two.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: So it's unlikely, she said, that she'll be able to fully teach about the last 50 years of U.S. history to her juniors and seniors.

For nearly a year, the district superintendent, Ramon Cortines, and the teachers union have been locked in a war of words over how to close a budget deficit of $640 million for the next fiscal year. The union accused the district of protecting an overpaid bureaucracy.

At board meetings, the superintendent argued that teachers union leaders could save jobs by agreeing to unpaid days off. Opinions appear mixed among the 35,000-strong teachers union. Ron Gochez(ph) teaches history at a campus a few miles away from L.A. High and said he'd vote against the plan next week.

Mr. RON GOCHEZ (Teacher): I can say with full certainty that we didn't take the fight to the district as much as we could have. And I, you know, I have to attribute it to our union leadership - or lack thereof.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: L.A. Unified's decision to slash the school year would be a first by any district in this economic crisis. Mike Griffith is a researcher with the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States. He says other districts are likely to do the same.

Mr. MIKE GRIFFITH (Education Commission of the States): I think California's situation is a little more dire - and their economic situation and the budget cuts they've had to make is a little more dire - than other states. But we can see states right now - like Florida, Michigan, Rhode Island - that are close behind California.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: L.A. High teacher Rebecca Solomon wants to use this mandated week off to pressure district administrators and state leaders to stop balancing budgets on the backs of schools. Some of her colleagues, she said, talked about working on the unpaid days cut from the calendar.

Ms. SOLOMON: We want to use this time, this week, to educate our community and our students, to demonstrate that we're willing to take the cut, but we don't think we should have to. And we don't think the students should have to suffer.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: So that may mean voluntary classes for students, and workshops for area residents, about economics and state budgets to explain the current economic mess.

For NPR News, I'm Adolfo Guzman-Lopez in Los Angeles.

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