The time to force change is now

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Alex Caputo-Pearl with SEIU members at the UTLA HOR meeting, May 23, 2018.

Above, Alex with SEIU Local 99 members marking their contract victory. UTLA’s declaration of a sympathy strike with Local 99 helped push LAUSD back to the bargaining table.


We are the ones who will save public education in Los Angeles

On May 24, more than 12,000 of us gathered in Grand Park for the All In for Respect rally in the spirit of teacher rebellions happening across the country. We gathered because — just like in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico — we’re too close to the tipping point of losing public education. We gathered because if we don’t change the direction of the district and the state, we won’t have a public education system in five years. We gathered because we know that the time to force change is now.

Our members created an electricity at the May 24 rally I haven’t seen since February 2015 with our Stand at Grand rally number one. It is clear that if the district does not agree to improve our schools and end its unfair labor practices, a supermajority of UTLA members will be prepared to vote to strike in the fall. As I milled through the gathering crowd before the program started, as hundreds constantly poured down the steps from the train station to the park, so many school groups talked with me excitedly, passionately, and with resolve to fight: Shea Franklin Shanks (whom I taught next door to in Compton my first years of teaching) and the Sharp Elementary group; Scott Banks, Mike Finn, and the Marshall High group; Gricelda Gutierrez and the Telfair Elementary group; Rosa Melendez and the Mulholland Middle group; Stuart Hall and the Wilmington Middle School group; and so many more.

The front page LA Times story, with the incredible, electric photo of the mass of our members in Grand Park, was the tip of the iceberg in fantastic media coverage.

The power of our May 24 rally was multiplied by the partners with us yesterday and every day of this fight: students, parents, community members, school staff from SEIU Local 99, Reclaim Our Schools LA, ACCE, LAANE, Students Deserve, UFCW, CSEA, Padres En Contra De La Privatizacion, the Alliance charter educators who just filed for union recognition, student performers, the incredible movement music of LAUSD alumna Martha Gonzalez of Quetzal and the musicians with her, the inspiring students from Southeast High School who have organized sit-ins against charter co-location, speakers who spoke of the strike in Arizona, and so many more.

More than 12,000 of us rallied on May 24 because we know that public education will not be saved by billionaire privatizer Eli Broad. It won’t be saved by the California Charter Schools Association, which drives the unchecked expansion of the charter industry at the cost of public education’s existence. It won’t be saved by Antonio Villaraigosa, whose gubernatorial campaign is being funded almost exclusively by 14 wealthy privatizers. It won’t be saved by criminally indicted LAUSD School Board member Ref Rodriguez and the board majority that depends on his corrupt vote. And it won’t be saved by the LAUSD superintendent — or should I say millionaire CEO of LAUSD — Austin Beutner.

We are who will save public education in Los Angeles with our vision for a sustainable, thriving system that respects educators and serves all students.

Our vision:

  • Lower class size. It’s shameful that California is 48th out of 50 in teacher-student ratio and that the district refuses to agree to our class-size contract demands.
  • More nurses, psychologists, counselors, librarians, and mental health support for our students. It’s shameful that California has 8,091 students per librarian and the district refuses our contract demands to increase critical health and human services staffing.
  • A stronger voice for educators and parents in local school decisions.
  • A fair salary increase. It’s shameful that the LA School Board accepted a 174% pay raise last year and offers its educators only 2%. 
  • More music, arts, ethnic studies, and electives for our students. 
  • Common-sense regulation of the 287% growth of corporate, privatized charter schools that drains $600 million from our schools every year.
  • Support for special education
  • Administrative accountability for school safety and discipline. An end to over-testing and top-down mandates that steal days of instructional time from our most vulnerable kids.
  • A leadership role for LAUSD in supporting immigrant students, challenging racism, advocating for affordable housing, and creating green space at our schools. It’s shameful that LAUSD wrings its hands about the impacts of poverty and racism on students but won’t stand up and use its power for real policy change. 
  • Investment in the Community Schools model. LAUSD needs to take a page from cities like Cincinnati, Austin, and Baltimore and fund a Community School model with broader and deeper curriculum for our students, systematic parent engagement, and wrap-around services for families.

This is the vision that will save public education in Los Angeles — and I challenge Austin Beutner to embrace it.

Early signs are not good that this will happen. Beutner was installed by the school board majority despite an utter lack of qualifications to be the leader of a public school district. His expertise as a millionaire private equity investment banker is in dismantling institutions and selling them off for profit. Our schools don’t need investment bankers — we need investment in our kids.

Beutner and LAUSD need to pick a side. Are they on the side of parents, students, and educators or on the side of closing schools, firing teachers, and destroying public education?

How we win

Here’s how we win our vision for public education.

First, the district needs to stop sitting on a $1.7 billion reserve and spend it on kids and classrooms. 
Second, state officials in Sacramento need to get California out of 46th place among the 50 states in per-pupil funding. Everyone needs to jump onboard UTLA’s 20 by 20 campaign to reach $20,000 per student in per-pupil funding by the year 2020. Three critical initiatives are in the works right now to help do that. UTLA is part of an historic effort to get the Schools and Communities First initiative on the California ballot to generate $11 billion annually for public education and social services. We are part of the national effort to make support for HR 2902 a bright line issue in every US Congressional race, as it finally would get the federal government to live up to its financial promise to special education students. And there’s California Assembly Bill 2731, which would close the hedge-fund and private equity tax loophole (and, in fact, Beutner himself may be hit by this tax as someone very involved in private equity). Legislators on both sides of the aisle agree that this is an unfair tax break for the financial sector.

Third, we must stop privatization. LAUSD needs to bargain regulation of corporate charter growth and co-locations with us. Accountability for charter operators includes not letting them silence their own teachers. We support our unionized charter educators, including the courageous teachers at Alliance, in forming and strengthening their union. We must all sign the All In membership cards to stop wealthy privatizers from using the impending Janus decision in the Supreme Court to undermine our union. And, we need to stop privatizers Antonio Villaraigosa and Marshall Tuck at the ballot box.


Five end-of-the-year actions

To win, we organize. We know that when we escalate with collective action, we win; when we join together with parents, students, and school communities to build power, we win. We did this in 2014 when we pushed John Deasy out as superintendent and in 2015 when we won a 10% pay increase. We did this earlier this year when we saved our healthcare from steep cuts. And now we’re doing it to win a contract that LA students and educators deserve.

There are five critical things that all members must do before the school year wraps up so that we are positioned for absolute, maximum strength.

1. If you haven’t already, sign your UTLA All In membership card

Last week, our members were targeted by the ultra-right-wing Freedom Foundation with emails urging them to drop UTLA membership. We knew this attack was coming—the group has hit our sisters and brothers with well-funded campaigns in Washington, Oregon, San Diego, Corona-Norco, San Bernardino, and other places. The Freedom Foundation is a front group for corporate special interests and the ultra-wealthy who want to cut public services and jobs, reduce employee pensions, and turn public services like education over to private corporations. They’ve set their sights on unions because we’re the biggest obstacle to their agenda. Getting 100% of our members committed to our union is how we protect our retirement, our healthcare, and our professional future. Sign the All In card and get it to your chapter chair.

2. Before or on June 5, vote for Newsom and Thurmond

We must stop privatizers Antonio Villaraigosa and Marshall Tuck from getting elected by voting for Gavin Newsom for governor and Tony Thurmond for state superintendent on June 5. Take a look on page 6 at Villaraigosa and Tuck’s donors—and their connections to Betsy DeVos, Trump, Eli Broad, and other privatizers—to see who would have their hands on the levers of power in California if they are elected.

3. Be sure you’ve signed the Schools & Communities First petition

If you haven’t signed the Schools & Communities First petition or seen one yet, ask your chapter chair as soon as possible. We’re working to get the Schools & Communities First funding act on the 2020 ballot. By assessing commercial properties at fair market value, the act would reclaim $11 billion annually for schools and local services. We can no longer afford to keep giving billions of dollars in tax breaks to millionaires, billionaires, and big corporations.

4. Commit to our possible strike vote in the fall

Since March, UTLA members have been signing the “Take Action” petition to commit ourselves to escalating actions to put pressure on the district for a fair contract. Talk to your chapter chair and make sure you checked the box “September strike vote if necessary” on the contract commitment petition. We know from West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico that part of escalation is getting strike-ready. We will fight and negotiate as hard as we can for an agreement this year, but if the district continues to refuse to come to an agreement and end its unfair labor practices, we will take strike votes in the fall and we must be ready to walk.

5. Make sure your school has a chapter chair

With a possible strike vote in the fall, it’s critical that every site have a UTLA chapter chair in place for the 2018-19 school year. Current chapter chairs must report the results of the election at your site to UTLA, even if you have been reelected. If your school hasn’t held your election yet, talk to your colleagues and make it happen.

It’s a privilege to do this work with all of you. You are wonderful. Stand with pride as an educator, and as a fighter for public education. Congratulations on reaching the end of another academic year, and let’s move into the summer inspired by the tremendous energy of May 24. We are together, the community is with us, and we can do this. Have a wonderful, wonderful summer.