Los Angeles Schools Superintendent Implements Targeted Hiring Freeze as Federal Relief Funds Run Out

Los Angeles Unified has implemented a targeted hiring freeze and is contemplating the closure or consolidation of schools as it confronts the loss of federal pandemic aid and a decline in enrollment, according to superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who revealed this in an interview last week.

Nearly two years ago, Carvalho took on the role of leading the nation’s second-largest school district and has since claimed that LAUSD is in fairly good financial shape with a slowdown in enrollment decline.

However, Carvalho cautioned that the city of California is not completely out of the woods yet when it comes to tight budgets and school closures.

The challenges facing Los Angeles public schools are not unique to the city. Districts across the country are also grappling with the impending expiration of over $190 billion in federal aid, which was intended to support schools during the pandemic and aid in student recovery.

In his previous role as superintendent of Miami, Carvalho had warned of an impending fiscal “Armageddon,” but he believes that LA Unified has managed to avoid this situation. Over the past two years, the district has restructured its school support services, resulting in millions in savings and putting the system in a solid financial position.

Despite this, the district is currently devising a plan for the approximately 1,800 teachers, counselors, and other staff who were hired during the pandemic and whose salaries were covered by one-time federal aid. Carvalho stated that only strategically essential positions will be retained, evaluating the necessity of each position. The district will use the funds from unfilled positions to pay for the federally funded ones they decide to keep. Carvalho expressed confidence in relying on attrition as a key solution to make up for the loss of federal aid.

One of the more complex challenges facing Los Angeles schools is a historical decline in enrollment, which has been ongoing for several decades but was exacerbated by the pandemic. While many school districts have experienced significant drops in enrollment since the start of the pandemic, there are several factors that make the decline in Los Angeles particularly drastic.

According to Carvalho, rising housing costs have compelled numerous families to relocate from Los Angeles. The average price of a single-family home in the city is now close to $1 million, a more than 30% increase from five years ago. Unfortunately, local incomes have not kept up with these rising costs. Carvalho notes that the high cost of living has forced many families out, and it’s not solely driven by individuals leaving the public school system to pursue private or charter schools. Enrollment in LA schools from pre-K to twelfth grade has dropped from 566,604 in the 2012-2013 school year to 422,276 in the 2022-2023 academic year. However, Carvalho believes that the rate of decline may be slowing down. The district’s data indicates a 2% decrease in enrollment compared to the previous year.

Carvalho credits the new Universal Transitional Kindergarten program for helping to boost enrollment. As per LAUSD statistics, there are now 6,471 students enrolled in the district’s pre-K programs, up from 5,687 in 2021. However, the superintendent acknowledges that it remains uncertain whether this increase in students will be sufficient to sustain all of the city’s schools.

The district is not currently making decisions regarding school closures or consolidations based on dire financial circumstances; instead, they are considering the type of offerings provided to students. At a certain point, very small secondary schools are unable to offer the necessary elective programs for students. Although closing or consolidating schools is viewed as a last resort, Carvalho admits that the district is exploring the possibility of closing or consolidating high schools with fewer than 300 students since these schools struggle to provide a variety of classes and extracurricular activities.

Closure or consolidation decisions are often met with resistance, but for Los Angeles, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when,” according to Pedro Noguera, dean of USC’s Rossier School of Education. Noguera explains that schools serving 1,000 students tend to perform better than two schools with only 500 students each. The challenge lies in downsizing while simultaneously improving the quality of education to avoid negative perceptions.

In terms of academic progress, Carvalho highlights the improvements in math scores on state and national exams as evidence that the district is making headway. Additionally, rising attendance rates indicate a positive trend for LAUSD. The average daily attendance rate has increased from 83% to 93% during Carvalho’s tenure. As for other updates, Carvalho mentions creating a draft version of a new policy to address the colocation of charter schools, reinforcing efforts to promote literacy, and expressing his commitment to staying on as LA’s education administrator in the long term.

Despite the challenges facing the district, Carvalho has garnered respect and support from educators and families, earning the gratitude of his community.