Not just a moment, but a movement

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Alex at Harbor Catskill EL as part of ROSLA parent organizing against the charter school, GANAS.

Above, Alex (seated center) listens to Catskill teacher Elizabeth Untalan talk about the threats of privatization and the fight against a corporate charter, GANAS, locating in the Harbor Area despite there being no need for a new school. The Harbor meeting was one of a series organized by Reclaim Our Schools LA to talk to parents about the new contract agreement and next steps to build on the momentum from our strike. Photo by Matthew hardy.

 

Emerging leaders spark new optimism

Our strike empowered Los Angeles. The impacts of our collective action are not just those we can measure, like contract wins and the shifting political dynamic, but those that are more intangible, like the positive human, emotional, and spiritual effects.

I have been so moved by the voices of our members in last month’s FEBRUARY'S UNITED TEACHER and in this issue of the MARCH UNITED TEACHER. Just incredible. Read them and be inspired. 

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Amidst this, one of the greatest positive impacts of our strike, which will help our union and the fight for public education for years to come, is the emergence of so many new leaders.

Jazmin Garcia, a parent at City Terrace Elementary in East Area, has been inspired to get more involved in Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles and Eastside Padres Contra La Privatización. Since the strike, she has done hours and hours of precinct-walking and door-knocking to elect Jackie Goldberg to School Board District 5.
Monica Esparza emerged as the new UTLA chapter chair at Harmony Elementary in Central Area in the weeks leading up to the strike. She organized incredibly strong picket lines, involved her entire staff, and built lasting parent and community partnerships that continue to benefit the school.

Tom Van Sciver, chapter chair at Sharp Elementary in the Valley, continued developing leadership and consciousness among his staff here in LA and supported developing leaders in Oakland, through Sharp’s adoption of a striking school in Oakland. 

Ava Marinelli, a UTLA member who began teaching at Alexandria Elementary in North Area through Teach for America, worked with TFA corps members and recent alumni around the city to consolidate support for our strike despite TFA and AmeriCorps’ threats to these members. Her organizing contributed to Oakland TFAers taking similar action and TFA making changes to how the organization deals with strikes. Ava is excited to now build on our strike contract victories on standardized testing and special education to push and win even more in the near future.

Elizabeth Untalan, a UTLA member at Catskill Elementary in Harbor Area, worked with her co-workers to build incredibly vibrant picket lines during the strike. Since then, they have used the strike momentum and contract victories regarding charter co-location to build the fight against a corporate charter, GANAS, locating in the Harbor Area despite there being no need for a new school. Elizabeth, her co-workers at Catskill, parents from around the area, and UTLA members from several surrounding schools recently launched their organization Harbor Defenders of Public Education as another key coalition component of Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles.

There are thousands more stories like these around the city since our strike. And, they are embedded within the narrative that I have heard at every single school I have visited since our strike — our members got to know each other better than ever on the picket lines, got to know parents and communities better than ever on the picket lines, feel a new sense of camaraderie at their schools and a new sense of optimism about the struggle.

It is incredibly inspiring. Now, we take the momentum of our new leaders’ emergence and we take the new optimism into four crucial next step struggles.

 

Getting Jackie Goldberg elected to Board District 5

There’s no other way to say it — Jackie, and our members and parent/community allies, crushed it in the first round of voting on March 5. Jackie got 48.26% of the vote — with votes still to be counted as I write this—in a field of 10 candidates. That is domination. But there is much more to do in the second round to ensure Jackie wins.

Jackie was with us on the picket lines and is with us on reducing class size, hiring more health and human services professionals, capping charter school growth, making sure educators and parents have more say, winning more school funding, and so many other issues. She is iconic in leadership roles she has already played, as a teacher, as a trainer of teachers, and as an elected School Board member, City Council member, and member of the State Assembly. 

Our members like Fidencio Gallardo from South Gate High School, Carla McNellis from Alexandria Elementary School, and many others knocked on doors, made phone calls, sent texts, and recruited other members to participate.

And, yet, we cannot take the foot off the accelerator pedal. We have been here before. In 2017, our candidate, Steve Zimmer, got 46.7% of the vote in the first round, coming incredibly close, just like Jackie did, to ending the election in the first round with 50% plus one. Then, in the second round of that 2017 race, the charter industry poured in more money than we had ever seen, more money than the United States had ever seen in a school board race, and Nick Melvoin beat Steve Zimmer in May of that year. 

The charter industry will do this again to try to beat Jackie and privatize our schools, downsize them, and attack our profession. We must double down behind Jackie for the second round, with every single one of us precinct-walking, text-banking, and more. Remember, school board members make decisions for the entire district, not just their own electoral district.

All of us around the city need to get involved, not just Board District 5 members.

 

Winning school funding through the parcel tax and Schools and Communities First

One of the incredible ongoing positive impacts of our strike is that we changed the narrative on school funding. Across Los Angeles and across the country, everyone is now talking about the need to fund our schools — not just in “red” Republican-dominated states, but also in “blue” Democratic-dominated states. 
We have been pressing this issue for more than two years now through our 20 by 20 campaign—fighting for $20,000 in per-pupil spending by the year 2020, to bring LA and California up to par with states like New York, which already spend that amount of money. 

It was our strike that made the breakthrough. In a poll done in the weeks following our walkout, an incredible 85% of Los Angeles supported our strike, and an astounding 77% of Los Angeles supported the idea of a local LAUSD parcel tax. 

We must ride this momentum and pass a parcel tax now: a 16 cent per-square-foot annual tax on owners of structures. Our strike won hundreds of millions of dollars out of the LAUSD reserve for class-size reduction, staffing, salaries, Community Schools, a commitment to issue no layoff notices, and more. We targeted the reserve and we won. And, yet we know, as we always have, LAUSD needs permanent, ongoing, new revenue streams in order to survive and thrive. A reserve is one-time money; parcel tax revenue is ongoing. We need the new revenue to cut against the pressure of low state per-pupil funding and the financial sap of charters, declining enrollment, and increased district responsibility to pay for our retirement.

We need to win the per-square-foot parcel tax vote within LAUSD boundaries on June 4, 2019, and use it to put even more power behind our movement to pass the statewide Schools and Communities First (SCF) initiative in November 2020, which would close the corporate loophole in Proposition 13. The parcel tax would bring $450 million to $500 million to our schools, and SCF between $500 million and $800 million, taking us up to 25% of the way toward 20 by 20. This is a huge step forward. 

There are two key ways we can use the parcel tax and SCF to build off each other. First, they mutually reinforce the same narrative, which we can drive in the public: In the richest state in the country, with more millionaires and billionaires and more business profits than anywhere else, it is the right thing to do to have the rich and corporations invest more in public institutions like schools, and in our students of LA, who are 85% low-income and 90% of color.

More than 70% of the parcel tax proceeds would come from businesses and only 18% from homeowners. The average homeowner within LAUSD boundaries would pay less than $20 per month, while downtown skyscrapers and corporate parks would pay much more because their square footage is so much higher. Seniors and disabled would be exempt. Renters would not face a direct tax. The ballot language would target the money directly to class-size reduction, more health and human services staffing, more music and arts, instructional materials, and other direct school site supports.

There would be annual audits and oversight. This progressive direction of the parcel tax is taken even further by SCF, which would close the corporate loophole in Proposition 13. It would only affect the largest, wealthiest commercial property owners, many of whom have been jumping through a loophole to avoid paying market rate property taxes since 1978 — even as their profits have soared incredibly. 

The per-square-foot parcel tax and SCF build the same narrative. Those who have more should contribute more to ensure our schools do not continue to be starved of funding and basic resources. The second key way the parcel tax and SCF build off each other is through our organizing of systems and structures. With our strike, we built a chapter structure: a chapter chair at every school, a Contract Action Team at every school, systems of support for organized parent outreach chapter-by-chapter, and so on. Building up to the parcel tax vote in June 2019, we will begin taking those structures and systems into the neighborhoods and precincts —connecting our chapters and members to voters, voter registration drives, neighborhood councils, community flyering, and more. Every piece of work we do for that June 2019 measure will help us drive toward even deeper systems and structures to win the SCF vote in November 2020.

Our strike has provided us with a huge opportunity to address what has plagued our schools for decades: a lack of funding and investment.

 

Implementing our contract strike victories

As you’ve seen in this column and in this UNITED TEACHER, we won so much through our strike on issues outside our contract—for example, influence in the School Board election and opportunities for school funding. We also won an enormous amount in our contract and in related MOUs, and we are preparing to vigorously implement those victories.

We will receive our permanent pay increase in May. At that time, we will also receive a very substantial retroactive payment of 3% for the entirety of 2017-2018 and 6% for July 2018 to April 2019.

We are preparing to closely monitor and organize for implementation of next year’s class-size reduction and increases in nurses, librarians, and counselors. We are gathering educators to craft our proposal on what the district should cut to meet its contractual commitment to reduce standardized testing by 50%. We are organizing the process for how schools apply to become Community Schools. We are gathering educators, parents, and community to organize enforcement of the provisions that give public district schools leverage against invasive charter co-locations. And, we’re focused on much more in the implementation of our new contract victories. 

We won these things. Now, we enforce them aggressively.

 

Winning a cap on charter schools in California

Similar to school funding, our strike fundamentally changed the narrative nationally on charter schools and privatization. Just this week, there was another front page article in the LA Times about this subject. This time, it was about how our strike ensured that every candidate for US president in 2020 would have to address their position on charter schools and privatization, within a backdrop of a much stronger anti-privatization movement. 

Our sisters and brothers in Oakland followed our strike with a powerful strike of their own, raising the profile of the charter and privatization debate even more and winning a commitment from the Oakland school board to call for a charter moratorium.

And, now, shaped by our strikes, legislators in Sacramento have introduced a series of bills on charter school regulation and accountability. Governor Gavin Newsom already fast-tracked one on more charter transparency and signed it into law this week.

That is good, and we embrace our role in it — but we know it isn’t nearly enough. We will be working with our own members, parents, community, and other locals across the state to pressure legislators, Newsom, and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond to pass more laws this year on charters and to specifically focus on capping charter school growth in California. 

So, there it is. We have built a powerful movement with our strike. You, all over the city — with Jazmin, Ava, Elizabeth, Monica, Tom, Fidencio, and Carla as just a few examples — are leading this movement.

And, we are not done. Our students need us not to be done, our parents need us not to be done, our schools need us not to be done, and our profession needs us not to be done. We keep moving, just like we did in the build to the strike — methodically, together, in an organized way, with our parents, shaping the narrative, with our spirit, our love, and our passion leading the way.

We are right and we fight. I couldn’t be prouder to be in this fight with you. Thank you for your incredible work, and keep it up.