The ‘billionaire bloc’ coming after our healthcare

This week, the “billionaire bloc” on the LAUSD School Board expressed hostility several times toward UTLA’s bargaining proposals and dismissed our bold platform to save public education in LA as “magical thinking.” 

Propelled by the California Charter Schools Association and armed with a 174% increase to their salaries, the four members — Monica Garcia, Ref Rodriguez, Kelly Gonez, and Nick Melvoin — continue to politicize their positions, attack educators, and remove transparency from the public.


Highlights from this week

  • Nick Melvoin staff member Allison Holdorff Polhill (his second CCSA operative on staff) also sits on the board of Speak Up Parents!, another “grassroots” billionaire-backed blog, similar to the LA School Report and The 74. 
  • Speak Up! was the home this week to exclusive interviews with Melvoin and Garcia, where they blast educators for our right to organize for collective action, calling UTLA a “special interest,” decrying our healthcare package, and claiming that the number one issue for parents is teachers’ pensions.
  • In addition to using slogans rather than putting forward substantial policy ideas, the “Kids First” mouthpieces, with a typical 4-3 vote, removed transparency by not just removing the labor partners section of the school board agenda, but on Tuesday, suspending the Budget, Facilities, and Audit Committee and Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Committee for one year.
  • Just moments after our early morning picket Wednesday, LAUSD sent a press release, titled “L.A. Unified Calls on California to Fully Fund Education” — a headline we demand to be backed up with real action.

In an encouraging sign, Kelly Gonez said she is in favor of UTLA’s 20 by 20 campaign, to bring $20,000 per pupil by 2020. California is the richest state in the country yet is 46th in the nation in per-pupil funding. 

The LAUSD School Board can help in efforts to fund our schools by redirecting local district resources to pay for nurses, counselors, arts, music, and a fair contract with healthcare and competitive pay. There are several places where the district should be looking, including $1.6 billion in unrestricted reserves and their annual habit of greatly overprojecting spending.

Instead, Melvoin and Garcia continue to bargain our contract in the press, pointing to our healthcare and salary as the primary drivers of district financial problems, rather than directing their staff to do the right thing and negotiate with us respectfully at the table.

While the billionaire bloc laments a funding shortfall that can be attributed in large part to unregulated charter school growth (which siphoned more than $590 million in vital funds from our neighborhood public schools last year), the members collectively received more than $15 million from CCSA in recent elections.

We know that 2018 is the time to highlight the crisis, yet the billionaire bloc is the least likely to stand with us, because they have a clear incentive to undermine our schools and our union. 

Aligned with our students, parents, and community, UTLA is fighting for the Schools LA Students Deserve, and we are in a position to do this better than anyone. 

UTLA’s goal has always been to get a fair contract first, prioritizing our healthcare and competitive pay, along with our Common Good demands and necessary support for our students. 

That means these same four school board members who criticize UTLA and dismiss teachers as “special interest” must look to themselves and their wealthy funders who got them elected. 

If they, as Gonez suggested, want to join us in the fight for 20 by 20, then their first move should be to ask their billionaire patrons to fund a “tax the rich” campaign to bring much-needed funds to our classroom to help lower class size and pay for a fair contract for educators.

These school board members must also deny a cuts-only contract to stem the tide of our teacher shortage, reinvest in our schools, and inspire the next generation of educators. 

Our schools have been facing decades of neglect and systemic underfunding. Now is not the time to think small. We must break old barriers. We must reimagine employee vs. employer relationships. We must reinvest in the civic institution of public education. 

For the school board to do anything less would be failing in their jobs as the elected leaders of LAUSD.