Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands

The righteousness of our cause is becoming clearer ever day, and LAUSD is on the run. A new independent analysis from Capital & Main finds that funding exists that would more than cover UTLA’s core demands without even touching the district’s massive surplus.

Capital & Main’s Bill Raden just published a detailed analysis of LAUSD’s finances that confirms United Teachers of Los Angeles’ key assertion—LAUSD is refusing to invest in our traditional public schools. Raden writes:

Persistent claims of poverty by the district have perhaps been the most contentious issue separating LAUSD and UTLA. The district has steadfastly insisted that LAUSD runs an annual operating deficit of $500 million and is already projected to dip .04 percent below the threshold of its $75 million statutory reserve. The cost, it adds, of the union’s core demands, which it puts at just over $800 million, will quickly lead to insolvency.

Capital & Main’s own analysis of the LAUSD budget finds that funding exists that would more than cover UTLA’s core demands without touching the district’s surplus. Our research also raises questions over how much of LAUSD’s budget projections are more of a creative art than a hard-nosed science.

“There is a history of the district crying wolf over negative balances two years out that then never seem to arrive,” agreed former Board District 5 member David Tokofsky. “If the budget were a basketball game, LAUSD would see a 20 point, final quarter lead by the Clippers as too close to call.”…

…new on Friday, January 11, was the district’s modest offer to add 200 new hires — or 1,200 in all — for class-size reduction, nurses, librarians and counselors. But for the nation’s second-largest school district, this represented a $130 million drop in a 900-campus bucket — and the lowered levels would expire after one year…

Raden details multiple new sources of funding LAUSD will be receiving from the state and LA County and estimates them to total $944.2 million. Nonetheless–surprise!–LAUSD understates these funds. Raden notes:

The district didn’t allow the new wealth to dispel its fiscal gloom. “Every independent expert who has reviewed Los Angeles Unified’s finances agrees the District has serious budget issues,” its January 11 press statement noted. “Los Angeles Unified simply does not have enough money to meet all of UTLA’s demands.”

To underscore LAUSD’s claims of near-insolvency, the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) last week waded into the disagreement — the union asserts at the invitation of schools superintendent Austin Beutner — with a LACOE “fiscal expert” expressing “great alarm and concern,” according to a LAUSD press release.

UTLA, which said it has its own forensic accountant pouring over the district’s books, has aggressively challenged LAUSD on the budget and a “structural deficit” narrative that the union dismisses as little more than political theater embroidered with scripted performances from allies within LACOE.

“There’s a $2 billion reserve that we believe is not all accounted for,” Caputo-Pearl said again on Wednesday. “We’ve pointed out that in the books and supplies line item, they consistently over-project, so there is money over-projected to the tune of $200, $300 million per year…

To prove its point, the union notes that the reserve has been increasing over the past five years from $500 million in 2013-2014 to today’s $1.9 billion — a yearly average of roughly $300 million more than the district is spending.  UTLA also points out a fact that has been mostly lost in the budgetary debate — namely, that neither the county, the state’s Department of Education, December’s fact-finding panel nor the other experts cited by the district have actually independently performed an audit. Never, the union adds, has it ever seen LACOE contradict a district budget when the district claims that it is in financial crisis. Everybody — the press included — has simply accepted LAUSD’s three-year projections at face value.

In describing UTLA’s demands, from the beginning LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner went into an act, throwing up his hands and claiming UTLA was demanding we “accept [an] offer that would bankrupt us. I don’t know how the district can respond constructively to that other than ‘no.'”

I thought this was stupid on the face of it, since nobody in any negotiation expects the other side to meet all their demands. If Beutner wanted to know how to “respond constructively,” he could’ve responded the way any other organization in negotiations does—by making a reasonable counteroffer.

Moreover, all of those UTLA demands were fully justified, and most of them were things LAUSD should’ve been doing for the good of its students on its own initiative. One annoying thing about this whole dispute has been LAUSD consistently behaving as if they’re doing something for us, “giving in to the union,” “offering the union” this or that. But in almost all instances these are things that students needed and the district should’ve been doing everything it could to accomplish them even if UTLA never asked for them or if UTLA never even existed.

I would add that some of these demands weren’t related to money at all, such as UTLA’s demand to have some say in the number of standardized tests LAUSD inflicts on its elementary school children.

Raden and Capital & Main’s analysis finds the actual price of UTLA’s central demands is $411.3 million a year. This includes:

· $189 million (LAUSD’s figure) for a 6.5 percent across-the-board raise, retroactive to one year

· $188 million for a 2,000 new-hire package of class-size reduction, and school counselor and school psychologist increase (based on a median annual salary and benefits cost of $94,000 per hire)

· $25.3 million for a full-time nurse at each of the district’s 720 elementary, middle and high schools (or 299 new hires at $84,809 per nurse for salary and benefits)

· $10 million for a full-time school librarian at each of LAUSD’s 223 secondary schools (or 118 new hires at $84,809 per librarian for salary and benefits)

With a $2 billion reserve—over 25 times what is legally required—and $944.2 in new money, UTLA’s demands (which we have now been fighting for for 21 months) are actually very affordable. All of this labor strife and the UTLA strike itself were completely avoidable—provoked by a district administration that has had to be dragged kicking and screaming by UTLA into doing what it should have done on its own initiative long ago.

Jackie Goldberg: LAUSD is ‘Ridiculous — behaving like we’re still in the Great Recession’

Former (and perhaps future) school board member Jackie Goldberg says that LAUSD is “ridiculous — behaving like we’re still in the Great Recession. Almost every other public agency in California has [restaffed] most if not all the [positions] they either didn’t fill or they laid off since the Great Recession. So we have huge class sizes — amongst the largest in the nation.”

Goldberg adds:

In the last 30 years they’ve never been right. No one’s saying spend all $1.8 billion. Spend half of it. Spend $800 million. Put $200 million [into] hiring 2,000 classroom teachers, reduce class sizes from the 45 that they are now, or the 40, depending on which school you’re at. There are things they could be doing right now and still put away a billion dollars for reserve.

Even Monica García—Who Was Key to Putting Beutner in Power—Can’t Bring Herself to Defend Him

LAUSD Board President Monica García, interviewed by KNX’s Claudia Peschiutta, couldn’t even bring herself to defend LA Superintendent Austin Beutner, despite being asked multiple times.

The audio clip is here, and it’s amusing—I lost count of how many times Peschiutta asked her if she supports Beutner, and not once did she say anything remotely positive about the superintendent she and her allies inflicted on us in May.

Peschiutta later replayed this on KNX in cuts, each time saying “that was the 3rd time I asked her, but no dice, then I tried a 4th time, still nothing,” etc.

In Defense of…Austin Beutner?

Austin Beutner’s allies are leaving him to twist in the wind, and all I can say is it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Still, it’s a bit unfair to Beutner. He was installed by the charter lobby and their allies/minions Monica Garcia and Nick Melvoin. Their agenda was austerity for the traditional schools, and a push to convert them to charter schools. Beutner did their bidding, but Garcia, Melvoin, and the California Charter Schools Association can’t pretend the problem is simply Beutner. The strike he provoked and the crisis our strike has created is their fault, too.

Scab Report: 2 out of 107

Sadly, one more teacher at my high school, who we’ll call Scab 2, decided to scab on Friday. One female teacher who is his neighbor in B Hall was crying as Scab 2 walked through the picketline, knowing their friendship was now poisoned.

After school a group of angry teachers confronted Scab 2  when he went to his motorcycle in the parking lot. Some yelled “scab!” and “traitor!” while most emphasized “We’re a family, we’re supposed to stick together!” Scab 2 got an administrator to open the school gate and then drove his motorcycle through campus to get away. It was a very unpleasant situation.

Scab 1, a former police officer and the one member of the bargaining unit on campus who refused to join the union, scabbed every day this week except for Thursday, when he drove away after a group of teachers confronted him.

Nonetheless, with the exception of a couple schools, the number of scabs throughout the district is very low. At my high school, 105 out of 107 UTLA personnel have honored the picketlines, which is typical.

Glenn Sacks teaches social studies at James Monroe High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was recently recognized by LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner for “exceptional levels of performance.”