Win the School Board in 2020 to win bigger in 2022

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Everything we do now lays the groundwork for full contract bargaining in two years.

By Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA President

The atmosphere at the temporary UTLA field office in Van Nuys was electric this past Saturday as more than 75 members prepared for precinct-walking for Scott Schmerelson. Cecilia Cordova Hart, Adriana Garcia, and Christina Medina from Cohasset Elementary huddled together to look at their assigned turf map on their phones. Teams from Blythe Elementary, Winnetka Elementary, Sharp Elementary, Carpenter Elementary, and Beachy Elementary took their sheets of talking points and confidently departed for their assigned turf.

A few hours later, teams returned with countless positive stories about interactions on the doors, and more votes for Schmerelson. The collective spirit and joy that powered the work on the picket lines in January 2019 was, in turn, powering the work on the doors in February 2020.

The next day, Sunday, I was precinct-walking for Patricia Castellanos in the light rain with Angela Cornell from Ford Avenue Elementary, Christian Herrera from South Shores Magnet, and Mona Reyes from El Sereno Middle. We had launched with a training from the temporary UTLA field office in Carson, and we asked the sky, “Is that all you’ve got?” Our reception at the doors was positive, and we picked up several supporters for Castellanos. As we finished the shift, Angela, Christian, and Mona discussed teams from their schools coming back before March 3.

Meanwhile, in the past two weeks, billionaire Bill Bloomfield and the billionaire-funded California Charter Schools Association dropped $2 million into these races against us. That’s right—$2 million in two weeks from people who lost in our strike, who want to cut our healthcare, roll back our gains on class size and staffing, and eliminate our union. Millions more will pour in before March 3.

To win the School Board, we need every UTLA member who lives in Board Districts 1, 3, 5, and 7 to vote. Moreover, we need every school to bring teams to weekend precinct-walking. This is job is all of ours—it doesn’t matter whether you live or work in the area of a contested race right now or not, every School Board member gets a vote on your working conditions, salary, healthcare, and more.

Study after study shows that the number one factor that influences voters is face-to-face contact. In this, we have a secret weapon: you and your co-workers. Polls in LA show that educators and our union are more popular than ever—both outgrowths of our popular strike, and a far cry from the days of John Deasy when our reputations were hammered in the public.

These regular conversations with voters, parents, youth, and neighborhoods will not only win us these School Board races and save our healthcare—they also reflect the work that we most need to do to power our movement in the future.

We have won important victories, but the fight continues

We are now seeing many victories from our strike implemented. The district recently released data that confirms what we have seen in schools: More than 99% of classrooms are at or below their class-size caps. Last academic year, before the strike, more than 3,800 classes across all grade levels, from TK-12, were above the caps that would eventually be established by the strike—now, only a tiny number of classes are over.

Getting legally enforceable class-size caps—something very few districts across the country have—was the first Herculean step, which we took with the strike. Having the district hire new teachers and respect the caps was step two, which has now happened. Step three is driving the caps at all grade levels lower, which we plan to do in our next full contract bargaining in 2022, which we need to begin preparing for now. We are in the driver’s seat on class size for the first time in decades.

We’re seeing enforcement of several other victories from the strike, including:

• more counselor and librarian hiring

• new contract language being used to leverage changes in how special education inclusion occurs

• new contract language being used to leverage against charter co-locations (the number of co-locations continues to go down)

• implementation of the guarantee of workspace for Health and Human Services itinerants and several elements won regarding rights for Adult Ed, Early Ed, and Substitute members

• 17 Community Schools up and running

• working with School Board allies to prepare for the implementation of State Assembly Bill 1505. Our strike was crucial to the passage of this bill, which gives local school boards greater ability to reject corporate charters

• seeing our strike and the Red for Ed movement continue to shape the national narrative, from the Democratic Party primaries to the next strikes coming.

Class-size caps were the second-to-last piece that the district conceded to in the strike. The last piece was on healthcare. LAUSD had been insisting that our pay raise be tied to selling out new educators, making it more difficult for them to become eligible for lifetime healthcare. We said “no way,” and the district’s last act during the strike was to concede on this. This victory sent a powerful message to the district regarding how hard we will fight on healthcare—a useful foreshadowing to overall healthcare bargaining this year.

For other strike victories, the district has not met its obligations. While LAUSD has hired more nurses this year compared to other years, which is very good, the benchmarks for nurse hiring outlined in our strike agreement have not been met. We are back in bargaining to lay the groundwork to attract more nurses, including higher pay and streamlined licensing and credentialing. The district is not where it needs to be on reducing testing. We are unfolding a campaign you will be hearing about soon to force the district to meet those obligations.

But, here’s the punchline that we have known. After 40 years of underinvestment in our schools, and 30 years of billionaire-led privatization efforts, it will take more than a few successful campaigns and a strike to win. The fight must continue.

Full contract bargaining around the corner

Full contract bargaining in 2022—when we can open all articles of the contract—will be a time of tremendous power and opportunity for us, with members, parents, and youth involved. It is right around the corner—we need to begin preparing soon.

We must see everything we do in 2020 as laying the groundwork for our big offensive in 2022. Specifically:

• Our contract reopener bargaining and LSSEI/Pilot School bargaining, initiated two weeks ago, are addressing four issues that we want progress on immediately, before 2022: salary, including an across-the-board increase, bilingual differentials, and pay equity; special education, including class size and caseload reductions; mental health staffing, so important for our students and for school discipline plans; and the ability of our schools to have more local decision-making power without giving up essential parts of the contract.

• With healthcare expiring in December 2020, and with this being a top priority for members, our bargaining to protect fully funded healthcare is important in and of itself. But, it is also essential tactically. If we can get a healthcare agreement this year, it allows us to clear that off the table and go into 2022 full contract bargaining with laser focus on those contract articles—from salary to working conditions to Common Good community demands—and laser focus on the escalating actions we’ll need to win.

• Our strike and our coordinated work with Oakland’s strike fundamentally changed the narrative on school funding. We lifted up the Schools and Communities First initiative, and we are expecting to get it on the November 2020 ballot. This will close a tax loophole that corporations have been jumping through for decades, and bring $12 billion to schools and social services. If we win this in November 2020, LAUSD will have significantly more funding, and our 2022 full contract demands can be more aggressive and far-reaching.

We need every member voting and every school walking

The fourth element of winning in 2020 to win bigger in 2022 is the most urgent. We must win the four School Board races on March 3, and if some go to runoffs, we must win them in November.

The School Board is our boss. We have a unique power—we elect our bosses. It would be difficult to think of workers anywhere else who elect their bosses. We do. We must take advantage of it.

School Board members have enormous power. They have approval control over our salary increases, class-size reductions, healthcare agreements, and more. They decide whether a corporate charter opens up within LAUSD or not. They hire and fire the superintendent.

If we win Schools and Communities First, they will decide how the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional money is used. They will be across the bargaining table from us in our huge full contract negotiations in 2022. In the most immediate sense, though winners would not be seated until months later, how our candidates perform on March 3 will shape how aggressive the district is this year in pushing back on our reopener and LSSEI/Pilot proposals and on our healthcare.

The first piece of winning the School Board is ensuring that every UTLA member who lives in Board Districts 1, 3, 5, and 7 is committed to vote for George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson, Jackie Goldberg, and Patricia Castellanos. If we don’t take voting seriously ourselves, we cannot convince parents and other voters to take it seriously.

The second piece of winning is all of us collectively committing to precinct walking in these final critical weekends. Knocking on doors can create anxiety for some of us. How we are organizing will help you overcome that. We help you organize a team from your school to participate. You walk in pairs. We train you on talking points. You use an effective and fun political data app on your phone. We ground your talking points in your passion—your “go to” at the doors is talking about what drives you to fight for public education. When we, popular in the public, speak from the heart, it moves voters—it’s that simple.

An experience from last weekend’s precinct-walking reflected this. On my walk, nestled amidst a series of single-family homes, was an assisted living center, with more than a dozen registered and high-propensity voters. We approached the receptionist, a young woman. When we told her we were teachers, without even asking much about our mission, she said, “Yes, our folks are going to want to talk with you.” She then spent 20 minutes matching us with the voters on our list, some in the dining hall, others in their rooms, others in the hallways. The positive reception was overwhelming: “Oh yes, my granddaughter is a teacher, and I will vote for your candidate,” “I went to LAUSD schools way back, and I will vote for your candidate,” and so on. The cross-generational reaction of the receptionist and the residents reflected how powerful our connections to people can be.

It is these kinds of conversations that Angela, Mona, Christian, Cecilia, Adriana, Christina, and all of us must bring forth for us to win the School Board. Be proud of your status as an educator and walk the neighborhoods with some swagger! You are wonderful. Let’s win in 2020 to win bigger in 2022!