By Warren Fletcher - UTLA President | United Teacher Newspaper | http://bit.ly/15HTDRH
“The Los Angeles Unified School District needs better schools and more resources to help all of our students meet or exceed their potential. That is why I became a teacher so many years ago. That is also why I ran for the Los Angeles School Board.”
—Bennett Kayser, LAUSD School Board Member
“We should seize the moment—when the money, the will, and the desire come together— to start rebuilding.”
—Monica Ratliff, School Board Member-elect
June 21, 2013 :: This month, the California State legislature adopted the state budget for 2013-14. It is a budget that looks very different from the budgets we have seen over the past six years.
Since 2008, the annual debates in Sacramento have not been about how to help children and schools. Since 2008, the political wrangling has been over how deeply education funding would be cut, and over which irreplaceable functions and services (such as primary grade instruction, libraries, academic counseling, middle and high school class sizes, student mental health, adult and early ed programs, and essentially everything else) would be “thrown over the side of the boat” in the interest of balancing the books. They have been dark and painful times. We’ve seen our colleagues’ careers derailed by RIFs, and we’ve seen countless children’s educational experiences harmed.
This year, the debate in Sacramento was over how to pump funds into the schools. With Proposition 30 funds beginning to come in (thanks in no small part to our hard work last November), the governor, the Assembly, and the State Senate each came up with a different plan for how to get those new dollars into California’s classrooms. In the end, the final budget compromise favored the approach advocated by Governor Brown. His plan (called the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF), has two goals. The first is to apply the new tax dollars quickly, so that all school districts in the state can get back to their 2007-08 (pre-recession) funding levels as soon as possible. His second goal is to overhaul how state funds are distributed among the different school districts across the state, with the objective of sending more funds to districts that have large populations of students who live in poverty, who are English learners, or who are in foster care.
In other words, to districts like LAUSD.
The LCFF acknowledges what all of us already know: Inner-city districts face challenges that most suburban districts don’t, and schools and districts with high concentrations of higher needs students need more resources, not fewer.
Over the next several years, the LCFF will allocate significant extra dollars to districts where low-income and English learner students make up more than 55 percent of the population. In LAUSD, those students make up 86 percent of the current enrollment. The first allocation of those new dollars arrives this July 1. The people who voted for Prop. 30 naturally expect that the new dollars will go to the classroom. There are two simple ways to accomplish that.
A first priority for those dollars must be to reduce class size and restore full staffing to L.A. schools by bringing back the educators who remain on the RIF rehire list. I’m proud to say that, because of constant pressure from UTLA, the majority of educators who were RIF’d between 2010 and 2012 have already been returned to contract status.
But, as of this writing, 549 teachers and health and human services professionals remain laid off. It would be unconscionable for the District (or for us) to walk away from those colleagues when new state monies are arriving in time to save them and their careers. (The approximate cost to bring back all 549 people would be about $47 million, easily within the range of the new LCFF monies arriving in LAUSD this coming year.)
A co-equal priority is to put the new dollars into the classroom the old-fashioned way: by across-the-board salary increases. Since 2008, teachers and health and human services professionals have made deep financial sacrifices to keep the District financially afloat.
We have every reason to expect, with the District now moving slowly into the black, that the financial hits we have taken these last five years will be acknowledged and that the District leadership will take affirmative steps to essentially “pay us back” for the pain we have endured. Even the current superintendent, John Deasy, acknowledged as much in his recent policy report titled “Next Three Years: Policy and Investment.” In that report, he offers a “two-pronged proposal for compensation,” stating: “The first [prong] being across the board raises. Cost of living adjustments and salary enhancements have not been offered to our employees since the 2007/08 school year. Our employees have done so much more work for so much less compensation that it is paramount that we honor this hard work first and foremost.” Before you get your hopes up about a “kinder, gentler” John Deasy, we should note that the second “prong” of his planned salary proposal is (predictably) a merit pay scheme. Nonetheless, when Sacramento and Beaudry are both talking about how to better fund schools and the classroom, and when even administration is openly talking about pay raises, it clearly is a moment of opportunity.
End to the School Board “Reign of Error”?
The next key piece of the puzzle is the School Board. During the Reign of Error that has characterized Monica Garcia’s tenure as Board president, talking to the Board of Education about fiscal priorities and educator pay has been like talking to a wall. But that is clearly changing.
On June 18, the School Board adopted a resolution co-authored by Board members Kayser, Vladovic, and Zimmer, titled “Creating Equitable and Enriching Learning Environments for All LAUSD Students.” That resolution committed the District to: • A multi-year plan for class-size reduction and full health and human services staffing.
• A multi-year plan for restoration of the Adult Education and Early Education programs.
• A multi-year plan “to implement competitive wages for District employees whose pay rates have been cut repeatedly over the past several years.” The resolution passed on a 5-2 vote.
Two years ago, during the darkest days of RIFs and Public School Choice giveaways, it would have been difficult to imagine that the L.A. School Board would have ever passed a motion in which they would take the lead (much less be on the right side) on issues like class size, sufficient staffing, and competitive salaries.
But on June 18, they did exactly that.
Our role to play
The final piece of the puzzle is, of course, us. I began this piece with two quotes, one from Bennett Kayser and one from Monica Ratliff. Ratliff perfectly summarizes the situation in which we find ourselves. Opportunities are presenting themselves, but opportunities are, by definition, limitedtime offers. We owe it to our schools and our students to capitalize on these opportunities.
Sacramento can’t do it, and the School Board can’t do it. We, the united teachers and health and human services professionals, through the united voice of UTLA, are the only people who can—through focus, discipline, and unity—convert these opportunities to realities.
As always, it’s up to us.