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UTLA vs LAUSD: An Unlevel Playing Field

LA WATCHDOG--The management of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the representatives of the striking United Teachers Los Angeles have been meeting behind closed doors for almost a week, trying to come to an agreement over salaries, class size, fully staffed schools (librarians nurses, counselors), the reorganization of the District into 32 districts, and a limit on charter and magnet schools. 

At the same time, the political establishment in the City, County, and State has come out in support of the striking teachers, in large part because they do not want to antagonize the California Teachers Association, the largest contributor to political campaigns in the State of California, and its over 300,000 members.  

But these politicians are all talk.  They have not offered any money to help LAUSD fund its $500 million operating deficit or the extra $800 million a year that it will cost to meet the demands by UTLA. 

Nevertheless, the management of LAUSD is under considerable pressure from the political establishment, including from some of its own politically elected Board members who are supported by the UTLA, a wealthy union with over $46 million in revenue and hefty cash reserves.  

Public opinion polls show that Angelenos favor the strike, but few realize the serious financial issues facing LAUSD.  

These include $22 billion in retirement liabilities (pension and medical), $12 billion in long term debt, considerable deferred maintenance of its buildings and facilities, annual operating deficits of $500 million a year, its Structural Deficit where future expenditures grow faster than revenues, and rapidly dwindling reserves.   This explains why the County Office of Education and Office of the State Superintendent of Education have been spending inordinate amounts of time reviewing and analyzing the District’s finances. 

According to the politicians and union leaders, the solution to the District’s financial issues is a new $600 parcel tax designed to raise $500 million a year to help fund salary increases, smaller class sizes, and fully staffed schools.  As part of any deal, the political establishment, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, will agree to support this tax increase.  

But there also must be reform, including trimming the bloated bureaucracy and restructuring the pension and medical retirement plans that are chewing up more and more of the budget. 

The other major obstacle to ending the strike is the goals of UTLA and its ego driven president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, that extend beyond the classroom.  These include a limit on expansion of charter and magnet schools that produce better results and operate on leaner budgets, and the desire of UTLA to have significant input and influence regarding the reorganization of the LAUSD into 32 districts.  

This is where the politicians must say no to UTLA and Caputo-Pearl because their goals of increased membership, higher revenues from dues, and more power are not to be placed ahead of those of the students, whether they be in traditional public schools, magnet schools, or charter schools.  

The politicians at the City, County, and State can end this strike that is harming students and their families by lending or allocating more money to LAUSD, demanding multiple reforms as a condition of their support for increased taxes, and saying no to the organizational and personal goals of  the UTLA and its president. 

 (Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw