Contract agreement and fiscal impact report: Reshaping the L.A. educational landscape

Standing for Racial Justice
Alex Caputo-Pearl
President Alex Caputo-Pearl

We know that poverty and education are inextricably linked. The stresses of poverty often mean that students go without basic necessities at home, and many of them live in underserved communities that struggle with violence, high unemployment, and a lack of needed social services.

Institutional racism and classism often reinforce the above dynamics and work against bringing the rich histories and cultures of our students, their families, and their neighborhoods into the classroom. I’ve seen all these forces at work in my 22 years as an educator, teaching in some of the highest-need, highest-poverty schools in California: Anderson Elementary in Compton, Muir Middle School in South L.A., and Crenshaw High School. 

UTLA has always stood for racial justice and for equity, for getting additional resources to the students and schools that need it the most. When our union was founded more than four decades ago, this was one of our defining struggles.

Today, fighting for targeted investment in high-needs schools is not only the right thing to do, it is also an absolute necessity strategically to protect public education from corporate deregulation and privatization. Privatizers such as Eli Broad, the Waltons of Walmart, and other billionaires focus their efforts, in laser-like fashion, on destabilizing schools in high-poverty areas, because they view these as the system’s Achilles’ heel. If they can shift enough students in those areas to an expanded set of corporate charters—what they label as “expanding market share”—then LAUSD will become fiscally insolvent, and the District, UTLA, and the overall commitment to public education for all students will be in crisis.

All of us who are invested in our students, our profession, a quality public education system, our ability to bargain for improvements in coming years, and our ability to maintain health benefits have an interest in fighting for additional resources and improvements in high-needs schools. It is part of doing what is right, and part of a strategy to defeat Broad, Walmart, and the billionaires.

Vote “yes” on the tentative agreement
The tentative agreement reached between UTLA and LAUSD on May 17 reflects this fight for improvements at high-needs schools. But that’s not all. The agreement also reflects tangible victories for all members and for students around evaluation and class size: the two issues that could legally be reopened this year in negotiations.

We got the agreement because of organizing— including the February 17 and May 4 actions — and because of strategic bargaining.

All members will benefit from what we won on evaluation: clear timelines that put up guardrails for principals attempting to abuse the process; a reduction in elements (from 15 to seven) that administrators use in evaluations; a continuation of the reduced workload and increased protections from last year’s agreement; and a continuation of the task force that will shift the system over the next years from a “gotcha” evaluation process to one that focuses on career-long growth.

The agreement includes immediate wins around class size and staffing and creates a pathway for the multi-year struggle around these issues.

The P.E. class-size cap we won in this agreement is ground-breaking and reflects our fight to improve student health. Secondary schools will be getting an additional full-time-equivalent position to reduce class sizes for elective classes, such as visual and performing arts, ethnic studies, and more, and this reflects our fight to build a well-rounded curriculum. The creation of Special Education and Health and Human Services Task Forces in this agreement reflects our fight to recruit and retain educators in crucial shortage fields. Reducing by half the time the District has to respond to overages in special education caseloads reflects our fight to serve our most vulnerable students. The addition of parents to the Class Size Task Force reflects our goal of building an inclusive movement. These are all parts of this agreement.

Moreover, with Title I high schools receiving a Diploma PSA counselor, 53 high-need secondary schools getting 17 additional days for their PSA or PSW, and 55 high-need elementary schools getting an additional teacher to reduce class size in grades 4 or 5 (or 6), we are fighting for equity, against poverty, and against the Broad-Walmart existential attack.

We are proud of this agreement, and the officers, UTLA Board, and House of Representatives enthusiastically support and recommend a “yes” vote. The ratification vote will take place at school sites over a three-day period between June 1 and June 3. Votes will be counted on June 4.

The tentative agreement: An important step in the long-term fight to reduce class size and increase staffing

We are committed to fighting for class-size reduction across all schools, and we also know that this is a multi-year fight. To give you a sense of the scale of the fight, consider this: Adding just one additional teacher to reduce class size at every school in LAUSD is approximately equal, financially, to an across-the-board 3.5% pay increase.

The fight to reduce class size and increase staffing is one that requires us to build power locally in bargaining for our 2016-2017 reopeners and our 2017-2018 full contract renewal, a year that also brings health benefits negotiations. It is a fight that requires us to all be involved in organizing to pass the extension of Proposition 30 in November of this year. And, it is a fight that requires us to continue building the long-term, complex, statewide coalition behind the Make It Fair initiative that would increase commercial property tax rates on the wealthiest corporations and that we hope to have on the 2018 ballot.

This is a long-term fight, and we all have to be ready to contribute to it. 

The cost of unmitigated independent charter school growth

It is impossible to talk about long-term plans for bargaining around class size and staffing, along with health benefits, without consideration of LAUSD’s fiscal health in the context of unmitigated independent charter school growth. There has been a 287% increase in independent charter schools in LAUSD since 2005, which has resulted in a combined estimated loss of $591 million in just this year alone. It is shocking that LAUSD has not studied this, and created common-sense solutions, over the past few years.

UTLA commissioned an independent report by the firm MGT to look at the cost of this charter school growth. UTLA is the first union MGT has worked with—they have typically worked with businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. In coming to the estimate of $591 million, MGT shows, through hard-hitting analysis, that with the growth of independent charters, ADA money leaves LAUSD with the students. However, the cost for important infrastructure, which charters depend upon, remain with the District. Charter oversight costs, which charter contributions do not come close to covering, also remain with the District. The highest-need students—to the tune of double the number of the highest-need special education students being in LAUSD, compared to independent charters—remain with the District, and these students are far more costly to educate. State loopholes and a lack of District care in collecting monies owed to LAUSD from charters exacerbate the negative impact.

Having a system that loses revenue but increases costs is simply not sustainable. LAUSD is in fiscal crisis. District schools are threatened, and existing independent charter schools, which depend on LAUSD for services and oversight, are threatened.

We are tremendously proud to represent all of you, our 35,000 members, across District, affiliated charter, and independent charter schools. We are equally proud to be associated with the brave educators at Alliance charters who are fighting to unionize against a brutal, illegal anti-union campaign. Charter educators are critical to building a broad educational justice movement. We have invested unprecedented resources into supporting these educators, their voices, and their contract campaigns over the past two years, and we will continue to do so.

But, we also know that the fact that we represent charter educators can’t make us turn a blind eye to costs that threaten the entire system and that threaten the existence of both District schools and existing charter schools. Pointing out the costs of charter schools is not anti-charter—it is pro-sustainability.

UTLA is leading the way in organizing for a sustainable public education system for all students. At the website, you can find the fiscal impact report, a set of policy recommendations from UTLA and In the Public Interest (a research firm that looks at issues of privatization), and a set of powerful testimonials from parents, educators, academics, researchers, business leaders, and elected officials on the importance of the fiscal impact report and the centrality of building a movement for a sustainable public school system for all students.


Come to the School Board June 14 to fight for a sustainable school system for all

The next step we are taking to address the findings of the fiscal impact report, and to shape future bargaining on class size, staffing, and other issues, is on June 14. On that day, we will demand that LAUSD collect the full 3% of charter revenue (permissible under state law) from Prop. 39 co-located charter schools rather than the 1% it has been collecting. This comes to more than $2 million, and LAUSD has left it on the table annually for many years.

Further, we will demand that LAUSD collect reimbursements from Prop. 39 co-located charter schools that were over-allocated space on District campuses the past few years. LAUSD has never collected these over-allocation fines, even though state law makes it clear that the District can and should do this. Over the last few years this likely amounts to tens of millions of dollars that could have gone to critical priorities such as lowering class size and fully staffing schools.

All of these elements coming together — the contract agreement, the fiscal impact report — reflect what our long-term strategy must be: continued organizing for high-needs schools, for all schools, and for sustainability and accountability in the entire system.

Working together, we can continue to reshape the educational landscape in Los Angeles and the country. Keep up the great work!