By: David Feldman | PSL Web
The author is a teacher in Los Angeles.
Friday, November 27, 2009 -- it is hardly news that workers and their families are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis across the country. Los Angeles is among the thousands of cities where public education has taken severe blows.
Ramon Cortines, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, announced on Nov. 12 that the district is facing close to a $500 million deficit for the 2010-2011 school year. LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country.
According to the Nov. 14 issue of the Los Angeles Times, teachers are expected to endure a 12 percent pay cut next year along with four unpaid furlough days to close the budget gap. When the pay cut and the furlough days are added together, Los Angeles teachers could conceivably see a 15 percent cut.
Cortines is threatening to lay off up to 8,500 workers if United Teachers Los Angeles does not accept the draconian budget cuts. Two units of Service Employees International Union Local 99 representing cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other employees have agreed to the four furlough days for this school year. (LA Times, Nov. 24)
This is especially distressing since SEIU represents some of the most exploited and underpaid workers in LAUSD. Five hundred custodial positions have already been cut this year. LAUSD is the biggest employer in Los Angeles.
All of this on the heels of the 2008-2009 school year, in which LAUSD eliminated 2,000 teachers, 400 counselors and 2,800 other workers. (Los Angeles Daily News, Nov. 13)
The Los Angeles school board has agreed to $1.6 billion of additional cuts over the next three years. If no agreement is reached, Cortines has warned that LAUSD will start laying off workers July 1 of next year. (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13)
In a letter to the presidents of all district unions, Cortines threatened that if all eight unions representing LAUSD workers did not accept the concessions by Dec. 8, 14,000 district employees will receive layoff notices. In other words, one in five district workers could be given pink slips.
Budget crisis only a pretext for union busting
The deadline is a shameless union-busting move by the district. Instead of engaging in negotiations, which LAUSD must do by contract, Cortines announced the planned cuts to workers unilaterally to the media. The district wants to paint teachers as greedy and influence public opinion with the full knowledge that both of the city’s newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and The Daily News are vociferously anti-union.
In return, UTLA is demanding that the notoriously bureaucratic LAUSD open up its books, and be fully transparent about its finances. The union is also demanding that the immense bureaucracy, including the eight mini-districts that govern the 700-square-mile district be slashed and that the money be used in the classroom where it belongs.
On top of mandated tests imposed by the hated No Child Left Behind Act and the federal and state governments, LAUSD spends additional money on needless and expensive “periodic assessment tests” and wasteful and substantial preparation materials that do nothing to improve the quality of education. Instead of the endless squander of resources, LAUSD should join with the unions to demand that the state and federal governments provide funds that can guarantee free, quality education that does not come at the expense of educators.
Much could be done on the state level. If the corporate tax rate was raised to its 1981 level, California could raise $8.4 billion. Teachers are under attack for budget shortfalls, yet California remains the only state out of all 21 oil-producing states that does not have an oil severance tax. A 10 percent tax on the richest 1 percent of Californians would raise another $6 billion.
States are taking advantage of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program to implement anti-union education reforms such as charter schools and so-called “merit pay.” The program promises a share of the total $4.35 billion allocated to those states that implement the most thorough reforms; many of those states castigating their educators and students by gutting their public education will still get nothing.
In comparison, the U.S. federal budget allocates $651 billion for military spending. Including supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military budget tops $1 trillion. (New York Times, Feb. 4, 2008)
Last year’s criminal bailout of the banks was advertised at $700 million to the public, but since then the government has offered outright handouts or guarantees to banks and corporations that bring the total figure to around $10 trillion.
The plight of teachers, school employees and working-class students is not exclusive to Los Angeles. Teachers as far as New Orleans and Washington, D.C., are fighting against privatization and union busting.
In a system bent on profiteering, be it through imperialist war or government bailouts, public education is viewed as expendable. Public education runs contrary to the maximization of profits. Under capitalism, it will always be under attack.
We must go to workers and denounce the cuts that amount to war on their interests. A strong union movement supported by workers and students is needed to combat the extremely regressive agenda being supported by capitalist politicians and those who fund them. The priority of unions should be on actions and mass demonstrations. As educators and students our power is not based on our financial resources, but in our numbers and our ability to fight back.
●● smf's 2¢: The premise of this article is correct – though 4LAKids would argue that it is the Students and by extension their Parents and not the Workers of LAUSD that are bearing the brunt of the calamity.
Though LAUSD is the biggest employer in Los Angeles, the District is not primarily an employer that secondarily educates children – it is primarily an educator of children that secondarily employs worker-educators.
Union busting must be looked at by a component of the powers-that-want-to-be as a desirable outcome, but the truth is that UTLA weakened its position in previous alignments and entanglements..
But if we look beyond the Red and the Pink to the Oil Severance Tax, the major advantage held by mega-business (energy, big retail, major real estate, big agra) under Prop 13 - and the so called Car Tax (which has cost State $6 billion a year in lost revenue for the entire Schwarzenegger administration |$6 billion per year for 6 years= $36 billion) we might realiize that our friends to the left are onto something.