December 28, 2018News
First and foremost, as the Officers and Executive Director of UTLA, we want to wish you happy holidays!
We hope you are getting the rest and rejuvenation you have so fully earned. You do such important work for our students and schools, and 2019 will be a monumental year in continuing that.
We write this letter to you in this crucial moment for all of us as educators, as union sisters and brothers. Together, we have been teaching for over 150 years combined, and we have been in positions of leadership for decades combined. It is our privilege to work with all of you. Please read the letter and the Frequently Asked Questions that follow in their entirety, and keep them near you over the next couple of weeks so that you can refer back to them when needed.
We want to convey to you in the most clear and unambiguous terms possible that we have never been more certain that we are at a watershed moment in defending public education in Los Angeles. For our students, for our jobs, healthcare, and profession, if the district forces us to strike on January 10, it is crucial that every single one of us participate in that strike.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
We’ll start with a reminder of what brought us to where we are. In 2017, the charter industry spent more money than has ever been spent in the history of school board races in the US to buy a majority on the LA School Board. The School Board then brought in Austin Beutner as superintendent — a multi-millionaire investment banker with no education experience, but extensive experience in downsizing institutions. It is clear that Beutner was the pick because his job is to downsize LAUSD by closing schools, attacking our healthcare, laying off educators, and flipping more schools to charters. He is close to Eli Broad, was deputy mayor for Antonio Villaraigosa, and has written extensively on attacking pensions. Beutner has contracted with firms that helped downsize and charter-ize the school systems in Newark, New Orleans, Detroit, and Washington, DC, as he builds his “Re:Imagine LAUSD” portfolio district plan.
If we don’t stop Beutner right now, and point public education in Los Angeles in a different direction, we are going to lose on healthcare, lose jobs, and our students and schools will suffer dramatically. Beutner and the privatizers don’t want highly functioning district public schools in every neighborhood — they want to cut and privatize, which means they need to intentionally starve our neighborhood public schools. We know that making gains on our proposals like class size, school safety, more nurses and counselors, less testing and more music/arts, Community Schools, regulation of charters, more decision-making on site budgets for parents and educators, and fair wages is essential to giving students a top-flight education, attracting families to the district, increasing enrollment, and creating the long-term financial stability that saves our healthcare and jobs.
Beutner also knows this, and doesn’t want it — he wants to starve our schools and disrespect our educators so that he can justify cuts and charter-ization. By moving this agenda, the district and the privatizers who run it may force us to strike.
This is why every single one of us needs to strike if we are forced to on January 10. If we have to strike, the UTLA Officers, like you, will be sacrificing pay every day. But, we will be doing that with the knowledge that the long-terms gains will far outweigh the short-term sacrifice.
EVERY EFFORT TO AVOID A STRIKE, BUT WE WILL WIN IF WE HAVE TO STRIKE
We are going to engage the district and other relevant parties in talks before January 10 if at all possible and attempt to reach an agreement. We will do that up to the last hours if we need to. We will have the expectation of seriousness — the district will need to come to those talks ready to spend substantially out of the record-breaking $1.9 billion LAUSD reserve and ready to engage our issues rather than dismiss them, as they have for almost two years.
The need to fight back against Beutner’s plan is enormous, literally existential in its implications. If we stay disciplined, focused, and 100% collective and participatory in whatever we do, up to and including a strike if necessary, there is great reason for optimism that we will win. Consider the following:
- There is a $1.9 billion reserve at LAUSD, the largest reserve it’s ever had, and a reserve that has grown each of the last five years. Beutner is withholding the reserve from our schools and students to create the conditions for him to complete his mission — cut and charter-ize. We can’t let him do that — the money is here in LAUSD to address our demands.
- There is a $15 billion reserve at the State of California, the largest it’s ever had, and an expected surplus of an additional $15 billion. With Gavin Newsom coming in as Governor, Tony Thurmond coming in as State Superintendent, a super-majority of Democrats in the legislature, LA being in the struggle we’re in and Oakland educators on the verge of being forced to strike as well, now is the time to get California, the richest state in the nation, to pull itself out of 43rd place among the 50 states in per-pupil funding. But, this will not happen without a huge push from us, because Eli Broad and his allies who brought Beutner in will push against it, just as they did against Proposition 30. They want to defund education in order to privatize it. Now is our best moment to act.
- Parents are with us in ways we have never seen before. Hundreds of meetings have popped up across the city, and social media is on fire with parent support for class-size reduction, more nurses and counselors, common-sense regulation of charter school growth, fair salaries, and more. Winning an agreement that addresses this broad set of issues will not only be great for our students and push back on Beutner’s plan to dismantle the district, but it will also form the foundation of an ongoing, trusting, unprecedented coalition with parents.
- Our call for a cap on charter school growth, which is not a formal bargaining demand but is absolutely essential to the survival of public education in Los Angeles, has landed on very sympathetic political terrain. Newsom and Thurmond are calling for pauses on charter growth. Community organizations are backing our demand. Jackie Goldberg, our candidate for School Board District 5, has been in the media supporting the call. Academics have expressed solidarity. And, the charter industry is uniquely vulnerable at this time, as the head of Celerity charters was just sentenced to jail, the Ref Rodriguez conflict-of-interest scandal lives on, and charter schools themselves are facing declining enrollment, as was the case with the sudden closure of a PUC school in August.
If we are forced to strike on January 10, it will be to stop Beutner’s disinvestment plan, and to lay the groundwork for a different direction that re-invests in our neighborhood public schools, saving our students’ opportunities, our healthcare, and our jobs. We are at that decisive moment for public education, and we are poised to win. It may take a strike to do it, but we will win.
CONNECTING WITH YOU & RESPONDING TO YOUR QUESTIONS
Over the past few years, and in particular the past few months, it has been so powerful to connect with you, as we have been doing hundreds of before-school, lunch, and after-school meetings with members at school sites. We learn from you and are inspired by you. From these meetings all over the city, we know that our members are ready to strike if we are forced to. We have seen before our very eyes that the readiness of our members has only grown exponentially since the 98% “yes” on the strike authorization vote. Our members know the existential stakes attached to this struggle.
These constant school-site meetings have also let us respond to your questions. A few questions have come up since the holiday break started, so we wanted to take the opportunity here to respond to those (see the Frequently Asked Questions section below our signatures). Please read these carefully — these are critical.
Sisters and brothers, our power is our togetherness, our power is our moral authority as educators, our power is speaking out about what our schools should be, our power is fighting for our students, our power is our unique connection to parents, and our power is acting collectively with 100% participation if we are forced to strike.
We are going to win this struggle. It will take real work, and it may take some sacrifice, but we will win. As stated in the initial paragraphs of this letter, we will make every effort to engage in talks to prevent a strike before January 10 — but we all need to be ready to strike together on January 10, that is a fact. It is that defining of a moment for our students, our schools, our healthcare, our jobs, and our profession. We understand that public education is worth fighting for, and we are the ones to do it.
Spread this message, talk to people about it, keep up the great organizing, and have a wonderful and rejuvenating remainder of your break. You are wonderful. Be proud of being an educator, be proud of leading in this fight, and ring in 2019 with energy and vision.
- Don't miss the Frequently Asked Questions right below!
UTLA/NEA Vice President
UTLA/AFT Vice President
UTLA Elementary Vice President
UTLA Secondary Vice President
UTLA Executive Director
FAQ on funding, fact-finding & more
Was the fact-finding report issued on December 17 a bargaining proposal?
No. The fact-finding report is a nonbinding recommendation from a state-appointed neutral party, not a proposal from the district. The district did not make a new proposal when the fact-finding report was issued. The district’s last official proposal is from October 30, when it offered the following:
- 3% salary for 2017-2018, and 3% salary for 2018-2019 contingent on 12 hours of extra work and rules making it take longer for new hires to attain lifetime healthcare;
- permanent class-size increases;
- a statement that the district would get rid of Section 1.5 (the provision that allows LAUSD to unilaterally break through class-size caps and averages), but then a follow-up statement that contradicted this, listing nine different circumstances under which the district could continue to unilaterally break through class-size caps and averages;
- no response on financial investments into class-size reduction, nurses, counselors, librarians, and other additional staffing; and
- no responses on special education, regulating charter co-locations, regulating charter growth and establishing charter accountability, limiting standardized testing, increasing decision-making for educators and parents on school budgets, early education, bilingual education, or adult education.
We formally rejected that proposal, as we rejected the district’s September 25 proposal, which was worse.
What did the fact-finding neutral say in the December 17 report?
The fact-finding neutral supported some of our key points, confirming a record-breaking level of LAUSD reserve, supporting the need to truly get rid of Section 1.5, and supporting financial investments in class-size reduction and additional staffing. But the neutral didn’t go far enough, in that the amount recommended for class-size reduction and staffing was not adequate, and many issues were not engaged sufficiently, including charter regulation, Community Schools, standardized testing, and local decision-making.
What happened as soon as the district and UTLA received the December 17 fact-finding report?
Upon receiving the report, the district immediately showed it is still not serious about engaging our issues, by sending out a press release that (a) said nothing about the neutral’s confirmation of the record-breaking reserve, (b) lied, saying that the district had offered a 6% pay increase without conditions (see the conditions above in its offer of October 30), (c) lied, saying that UTLA leadership had agreed to a 6% salary offer, (d) while engaging class size, made no offer on it (its offer on class size on October 30 had been very deceptive, described above), (e) while engaging staffing, made no formal offer on it, and (f) didn’t engage any other core issues, including charter co-locations, regulation on charter growth, testing, Community Schools, and parent and educator decision-making on school site budgets. This also continued LAUSD’s distressing pattern of trying to bargain through the media.
What did I hear about the district accusing UTLA of unfair bargaining practices?
The district has continued its unlawful and specious practices in bargaining. Most recently, after 20 months of bargaining, never having raised the concern before, and after actually responding to some of the very proposals it is now calling improper, the district disingenuously went to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) claiming that we are bargaining in bad faith because some of our issues are “out of the scope of bargaining.” Some examples of their claim are the issues of testing, transfers, and parent/educator decision-making. On December 17, PERB issued a complaint on this. This is not unusual, as it just means that PERB will hold a routine hearing on the issue, and it says nothing about the district’s chances of winning this claim. It is a ridiculous claim that we will beat back — issues of testing, transfers, decision-making, etc., are clearly in our contract and in the scope of bargaining, and the district’s cynical approach on this, just to distract us, is very obvious.
What is the update on the district engaging in unfair bargaining practices?
The district’s accusation of unfair bargaining is ironic, given its pattern of unfair bargaining practices, such as sending proposals to the media before sending to us, refusing to give us public documents on the budget (even though Beutner says he wants to allow us to “audit the district’s books”), trying to stop our members from talking to parents, unlawful attempts at intimidation of members, and more. PERB has issued three complaints against the district for these practices. We are pursuing them rigorously with our top-flight attorneys. Part of the reason we may need to strike is in response to these consistent unfair practices of the district — to get it to comply with its basic bargaining and legal obligations.
What’s up with LA County’s statements about the LAUSD budget?
The district is going to continue trying to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt. They see that as their best weapon. Beutner will continue to claim the district has no money despite the record-breaking $1.9 billion reserve that has grown each of the past five years and despite how laughable district financial projections have been. Every year, district officials argue that a fiscal cliff is coming in three years, but it never comes. In 2015, for example, they projected that 2018’s reserve would only be $100 million — they were only off by $1.8 billion. Beutner will continue to get LA County to say supportive things about his analysis. This has no credibility. LA County will ring alarm bells at any district that asks that of them, as long as that district has declining enrollment. LA County said the district had no money in 2015 — then the district suddenly found $400 million for our pay increases and other improvements. LA County officials spoke about the so-called fiscal cliff at the LAUSD School Board this fall, and it has since surfaced that the district wrote LA County’s comments for them.
What did I hear about LAUSD hiring temporary substitutes?
UTLA proudly represents more than 2,000 substitutes in our bargaining unit, and they are prepared to go on strike, because our contract campaign is fighting for improvements for all of our members. It is outrageously irresponsible for Beutner to think that a few hundred temporary employees can educate more than 600,000 students. We believe that it is illegal for the district to hire people outside our bargaining unit to teach in LAUSD classrooms. We are exploring all options for legal action to protect the work of UTLA substitutes. The people Beutner says he hired will never replace the hard-working LAUSD teachers and substitutes who have dedicated their lives to LAUSD, but it is consistent with the union-busting agenda of Beutner and the pro-charter majority of the LAUSD School Board. UTLA is one of the only educator unions in the country that includes substitute teachers in our bargaining unit, and thanks to that collective strength, LAUSD is one of the only districts in the country that provides health benefits for substitutes. Solidarity will make fighting, winning, and protecting all of our rights and benefits possible for years to come.
Why is Beutner always bringing up the State of California?
Beutner will continue to disingenuously say that this is not about fighting the district for funds for our classrooms and that it is only about fighting at the state level for funds. He is wrong about the district, and the record-breaking reserve proves that. About the state, he is correct that we need to also pressure the state government for funding, but he needs to turn his rhetoric into reality. UTLA initiated our 20 by 20 campaign ($20,000 per student in per-pupil funding by the year 2020) over a year ago, and it has driven local, state, and national conversations on school funding since then. The LA School Board immediately reacted to our call last year, and supported the 20 by 20 campaign. As part of making 20 by 20 real, UTLA has been a part of a vibrant statewide coalition to qualify Schools and Communities First for the 2020 statewide ballot, which would bring $5 billion additional to schools. We also ran a bill in Sacramento to close the carried interest corporate loophole that has helped private equity millionaires like Beutner avoid paying their fair share in taxes. The bill failed because Beutner’s allies in the private equity industry vigorously opposed it. We’ve been doing our work on state funding, and are continuing it aggressively. Now, Austin Beutner needs to do his work, instead of just putting forward rhetoric. He should immediately appeal to the state to direct some of its record-breaking $15 billion reserve and anticipated additional $15 billion surplus to public schools. He should also immediately develop another bill on closing the carried interest corporate loophole, and get his private equity millionaire allies to support it, rather than kill it, as they did last year.
How are we doing in the media and with parents?
We are doing tremendously well in the media. The corporate media, which caters to Beutner because he was previously the publisher of the LA Times, will never be with us — but even there, we have fought the district to a draw, with many supportive articles in the LA Times, Daily News, mainstream radio, etc. We get hundreds of thousands of dollars in free, earned media every week. Our paid media billboards and ads are everywhere. We are dominating the message in more progressive media outlets. On social media, we are dwarfing the presence of the district and the privatizers. We will continue with that. But, remember, our best connections to the broader public will never be through the media, but through our natural connections to parents across our 900 schools. Continue talking to as many parents as you can. While many of us UTLA Officers are LAUSD parents, and our children will be with us on the picket lines and at the rallies during a strike, we should advise parents more generally to use their own judgement, based on their many different circumstances (child care, food, etc.), when deciding whether they send their children to school during a strike. But, we must also connect with parents deeply (the vast majority want to help us) and urge them to do the following in support, to win for our students and schools, and to end a strike quickly:
- Call board members and Beutner at 213-241-6389 and tell them to use the reserve on class size, nurses, counselors, etc.
- Follow us on social media and share as much as possible.
- If we have to strike, be on the picket line with us in the morning and afternoon.
- If we strike, open their houses to be used by educators for restroom breaks.
- If we strike, use their community connections to get us parking somewhere near the school.
- Have window signs, stickers, buttons everywhere possible.