The Looming Apocalypse at LAUSD and Beyond

Larry Sand
President of the California Teachers Empowerment Network

The “state crisis” threatened by Los Angeles teacher union boss two years ago is upon us.

In two recent posts, I detailed the United Teachers of Los Angeles contract demands on the school district and reported that a strike was likely. And of late, the situation has gone from bad to dire.

Perhaps the biggest issue revolves around the union’s demand for a 6 percent pay hike – retroactive to last year – and the Los Angeles Unified School District’s counter with a 2 percent increase, a one-time 2 percent bonus and a $500 classroom supply stipend. The sticking point is a $1.7 billion reserve that LAUSD says it needs to hold onto just to break even over the next three years. At this point the district is already overspending and needs the cash to pay future bills, which include salary increases to other school employees negotiated by the district earlier this year. The union, however, ignores this reality, insisting that the district is unnecessarily sitting on the money. It claims that LAUSD’s financial officials and the school board are engaging in apocalyptic activity.

But union dismissive talk aside, the district is in deep trouble. At the August 27th LAUSD board meeting, Candi Clark, the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s chief financial officer, showed up…unannounced. This is like when parents come home a day early from a vacation and find the kids have been partying the whole time they were away. Clark told the board in so many words that they were on probation and need to be very careful or the county will take the reins of LAUSD away from them.

And then it got even worse for LAUSD. At the next board meeting two weeks later, not only was Clark back, but she was joined by Nick Schweizer, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction for the California Department of Education. His presence signaled a possible state takeover of the second largest school district in the country.

The good news is that the school board finally appreciates the gravity of the situation. “We can’t bargain ourselves into insolvency,” said George McKenna whose own candidacy was backed by UTLA. Another board member, Richard Vladovic, warned that a teacher strike could deal a fatal blow to the district, which is already losing 16,000 students a year because, “When they go on strike, another 4,000 parents are going to leave this district and go someplace else, and we’re going to lose the money for that.” And losing parents, their kids and the funding they generate will make things even worse for the beleaguered district. The eminently sensible Nick Melvoin cautioned LAUSD “not to make the same mistakes that Sacramento Unified just made – offering unaffordable raises to avert a strike, which led to its budget being rejected by county overseers.” He added, “Nothing is more disrespectful to our employees than to promise something and then take it away months later or to have massive layoffs or furlough days.”

Unfazed – incredibly – UTLA still contends that the district is hoarding money that could be used to give teachers raises. But whatever the union says, LAUSD knows the jig is up. With Mommy County and Daddy State in the house, the irresponsible kids aren’t calling the shots now.

All this fits right into UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl’s game plan. In 2016, he talked about the “unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding … the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.

As prescribed by California law, a process must be followed before the union can legally strike.  The next scheduled event in the melodrama is mediation, which is set for Sept. 27th, to be followed by a fact-finding process if necessary…and it will be.

When teachers strike, kids are the big losers. At this time California’s school rating system shows that 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earn a D or F in English language arts, 50 percent earn a D or F in math, and just 40 percent of all students go on to graduate college or are career ready. Having their teachers on picket lines will not improve those devastating statistics one iota.

Alex Caputo-Pearl’s desired crisis is indeed looming and the apocalypse is nigh.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Cross-posted at the California Policy Center.

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