LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Enrollment is down, costs are up and the deficit facing the Los Angeles Unified School District keeps growing. Superintendent Michelle King, who took the post in January, says she may have to shrink the district in some ways and grow it in others.
"In terms of the budget, I'm looking at everything," King told CBS2's Pat Harvey in an exclusive interview. "So, some schools, if they are too small to run, then it's cost prohibitive, unfortunately, to run."
King is LAUSD's first black female superintendent. After 30 years with the district and eight months as superintendent, she's popular among LAUSD's rank and file. Her support for a recent expansion of health-care benefits boosted her popularity among employees but will cost the district at least $16 million per year, according to various estimates.
An independent panel forecast a deficit of $333 million for LAUSD next year. By 2019, that could grow to nearly $600 million.
King says many options are on the table for dealing with the budget deficit, including closing schools with fewer than 300 students and a possible restructuring of kindergarten through eighth grade.
"There's another opportunity to consolidate when you are able to have K-8 versus an elementary, middle school you might be able to put all of them on one campus in the K-8," said King.
The superintendent says the district's financial problems are caused by several factors, including declining enrollment, health and pension benefit expenses, and special-education costs.
In addition, more than 100,000 students have left traditional district schools for charter schools. The superintendent is undeterred.
"For me, it's certainly about choice, and I believe that if we build it, they will come," she says.
The district opened 16 more magnet schools this year, including a girls-only science and technology academy near downtown L.A. King has directed the district to offer more language-immersion schools, even to the youngest students.
"We are looking at starting dual language in the early years, like preschools," King said.
New statewide test results show LAUSD students made modest gains in English and math, but more than half still fell short of the state average. According to King, graduation rates at LAUSD are up 3 percent.
"When I stepped in, I said to the troops, everyone we are going to have an all-hands-on-deck, laser-like focus on ensuring that our kids get to graduation," King said. "We knew where every student was in the trajectory to graduation and really customized a program for each and every student."
King gives credit for all of LAUSD's gains to principals and teachers for pushing kids to take online classes and attend after-school programs.
Finally, the superintendent has a message for parents.
"I want them to know that we are a district on the move and that we are a district of opportunity," said King. "I'm inviting all families to come here. Our doors are open. We are the best you will find."
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