By Warren Fletcher UTLA President. President’s Perspective, United Teacher Newspaper
June 22, 2012 :: Last week, the UTLA membership voted to ratify the 2012-13 Jobs and Services Restoration Agreement between UTLA and LAUSD. By ratifying that agreement, we were able to save the jobs of about 4,700 of our fellow teachers and health and human services professionals.
We were also able to avoid a 25 percent class-size increase in the primary grades, and we stopped the total elimination of adult education, early childhood education, SRLDP, and the elementary arts program, plus many other major job and program cuts at all levels of instruction. (Additionally, during March, April, and May, UTLA secured the reversal of several hundred RIF notices through our aggressive defense of members in the RIF hearing process.)
Close vote puts LAUSD on notice
First, I must say thank you to everyone who cast a ballot—either for or against the tentative agreement—and for taking part in making a very difficult decision. Those who voted “yes” saved thousands of jobs and stopped the dismantling of vital programs and services. Those who voted “no” sent an important and powerful message to the School Board, the superintendent, and the District (and for that matter, to the UTLA officers and Board of Directors).
The message is clear. UTLA members are angry.
As the District’s priorities demonstrate over and over again, LAUSD has shown its willingness to be cavalier about the needs of schools and students. The superintendent and School Board have felt free to adopt wildly destructive and irresponsible budgets, secure in the knowledge that the teachers would clean up their mess, that UTLA members would step up and “do the right thing” for students and the community. And for the past four years, we have done exactly that.
Once again, the teachers and health and human services professionals of L.A. have taken on the burden of saving the District from itself. But our capacity— and willingness—to bear that burden, year after year, is clearly coming to an end.
Teachers have begun to worry— justifiably—that by sacrificing and putting the needs of our students and our communities first, we educators are enabling the School Board and the superintendent to continue, year after year, to eliminate dedicated teachers, to shorten the school year for every student, and to further undercut the value of an LAUSD education.
Beginning today and going forward, we must unite to change this pattern. Our first fight must be to get the governor’s education funding initiative, our financial lifeline, passed by the voters. But after that, we must demand, in coalition with parents and the community, that the District follow the new agreement and provide a full year of instruction to every student and a full year of salary to every teacher and health and human services professional in 2012-13.
Media get the furloughs wrong
Media reports (including the L.A. Times) stated that, under the agreement, students would definitely lose five days of instruction and teachers would definitely lose 10 days’ worth of pay in 2012- 13. According to those media reports, loss of pay equivalent to ten days is a done deal. Those reports were wrong.
In fact, under the agreement, employees could end up taking anywhere from zero to 10 furlough days next year. The number of days directly depends on the outcome of the governor’s education funding initiative on the November ballot.
Under the agreement, if the education funding initiative passes, that event would unlock the funds necessary to reduce or eliminate the potential furlough days. Under the agreement, the moneys that LAUSD receives from the passage of the initiative (called deferral paydowns) are automatically applied to reducing the furlough days. Additionally, in light of this year’s arbitration dispute between UTLA and the District (when LAUSD imposed furlough days based on their claim that the funding to eliminate furloughs had been allocated by Sacramento, but not yet received by the District), this year’s agreement includes a provision that, if the District imposes any of the potential ten furlough days, but it turns out at the end of the fiscal year that funding levels were sufficient to avoid them, LAUSD must reimburse employees for lost pay (up to seven days).
However, if the education funding initiative fails in November, the state legislature and the governor have already made it clear that, on a statewide basis, funding for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year will be reduced by the equivalent of three additional weeks of instruction. In other words, in every school district in California (including Los Angeles), employees will be looking at the prospect of a school year that is a full month shorter, with a corresponding reduction in pay.
The path to a full school year
The terms of the agreement, and the funding that would result from passage of the education funding initiative, create a clear path to having a full instructional year for students (and a full pay year for employees) for the first time since 2008. But we cannot simply sit back and wait for it to happen.
We must all commit to securing a positive vote in November. We must hold the District’s feet to the fire. We must create the kind of community and political pressure necessary to ensure that the School Board and the superintendent follow the terms of the agreement, and that (once the funding initiative passes) the days of instruction, and the days of pay, are restored. This will include community coalition building and a media campaign built around the idea that every child deserves a full school year, and the demand that LAUSD not stand in the way of that. And, because three of the current School Board members are up for reelection this coming March, we have a direct way for teachers, parents, and the community to hold them accountable if they stand in the way of that full school year. And finally, in that March election, we must change the School Board majority. That is the only certain way to break the annual cycle of budgetary blackmail.