UTLA Funds the Problem, Not the Solution

Dear UTLA brothers and sisters and community supporters,

our union leaders take our money and give it to our enemies. We have to change this before we are able to build real political power in LA.  

I recently attended a UTLA PACE meeting to gain a better understanding of how this committee furthers the goals of our labor union. What I found was a committee lacking in sound theory, repeating a destructive pattern that is actually moving UTLA further away from building political power for the public school system and the workers who give it its value. PACE borrows routinely borrows money from UTLA membership so your money is used to finance privatizer politicians whether you contribute or not.

Charter Policy of the Board of Education

Our union will continue to lose members and clout to the privatizers if we do not reverse course now. Charter growth has increased 287% in LA in the last 15 years and UTLA has lost 10,000 members. On their own webiste LAUSD boasts, “the District has become the largest charter school authorizer in the nation, with more than 248 independent and affiliated charter schools serving over 130,000 students as part of its portfolio of schools.” The LA School Board is committed to charters, “especially those that serve under performing student populations.” Yet UTLA leadership, like union leaders all across the U.S. continue to follow a losing model of shoveling tons of money at essentially anti-labor candidates for school board seats hoping for a miraculous turn around in the state of things. We are told we can’t give up the board to the privatizers. Guess what? We already have.

Is it an efficient use of money to buy school board seats, when the board itself is committed to privatization. Each charter petition must”address” some community need such as low test scores or some other “lack” of educational programs in the area. For example Citizens of the World says they offer an “intellectual challenging, experiential learning environment.” If the board was at all concerned with privatization they could challenge these petitions on the grounds that LAUSD already offers an intellectually challenging learning environment. State law does take some discretion away from the board when considering petitions but that does mean they have to automatically concede that charters offer more than traditional public schools.

They meet on Tuesdays when parents are at work and teachers are at meetings to hide their complicity with the neo-liberal agenda. The board is merely a plaything for district bureaucrats and their billionaire bosses who pursue privatization. What are the real contributions of the board over the last 15 years? The only significant gains such as class size reduction, more nurses and librarians have come from community action. This is why I say the board is part of the problem, not the solution. Exposing the traitors to public education is the real work to take back their district from the privatizers.

Labor is dying a painful death in America because it has forgotten its roots as a civil rights movement dedicated to improving the lives of its members.  Teacher’s unions are unique among labor unions as our working conditions are the learning conditions of students so when we win the whole community wins. 

Endorsing the Enemy 

The PACE meeting started with a revealing report, State of Denial: California Charter Schools and Special Education Students by the UTLA research staff which revealed how LAUSD approved charters under enroll special education students when compared to public schools. The purpose of the State of Denial presentation  was to agitate members to lend support to the “pro public education” school board candidates so the privatizers will have politicians to oppose their bad practices.

Yet three of the candidates endorsed on September 4th, Schmerelson, Mkenna, and Goldberg are over seeing these bad practices of LAUSD right now. They approve charter applications and have oversight over these schools. Why don’t they shut down all these bad actors? Why don’t they call for the full collection of oversight fees?  Why do they turn a blind eye to the hoarding of tax payer money?  Why don’t they call for the abolition of the charter system itself which is inherently a bad actor?  They won’t because they are part of the machinery that keeps these practices going so the petty bourgeoisie of LA (whom they are a part of and represent) have a “choice” to make money off charters or NOT send their kids to real public school.    

The newest UTLA endorsee, Patricia Castellanos, will help to continue to the parceling out of LAUSD students to charter schools while giving Angelenos the false security that public schools are being prioritized. Nowhere in her candidate statement does she call for an end to privatization or the charter school drain. She makes only vague references to neighborhood schools, college readiness and a seat at the table for all stakeholders. One cannot be on both sides of the issue.

The Undemocratic Interview Process with PACE

There was one successful motion to block the endorsement of a city council candidate who would not take a stand against the closing of a community library.  This was very revealing because it demonstrates how the PACE “interview” panel for candidate approval are rigged from the start.  Certain people who may be unfriendly to the pre- ordained candidate are kept off the panel.  

After this endorsement was blocked, a prominent UTLA leader directed the committee that they would have to endorse someone eventually.  Why does the committee have to endorse a city council candidate, especially one that is not a friend of the working class?  The endorsement is the first step in the process to open the floodgates of teacher money to candidates in hopes they will live up to their promises to working class, which never happens.

CORE calls for full transparency to all members in regards to this interview process.  There needs to be some form of primary in which all members can be a part of vetting these candidates.  Either a primary vote or survey based on candidates statements in the United Teacher Newspaper.  We should also be developing our own candidates whether in our outside the union who are actually going to fight for the abolition of charter schools.  Just saying you will not take charter money is an awful low bar we set for our endorsement.  It is impossible to tell if individual donors support charters or not.  Most of the people who can and do afford to give to campaigns are of the class of people who are more likely to support charters anyway.  

The Board is Manipulated by LAUSD Upper Management

The board is supposed to be in control of LAUSD but we see they are not or don’t care to be.  UTLA should not have to commission studies when they already give millions to school board candidates who are supposed to be doing the job of maintaining the integrity of board approved charters. State of Denial proves that charter under enrollment of special student costs LAUSD an addition $75 million a year.  We are buying board seats that are complicit in the segregation of our students and the mismanagement of funds. 

Last school year our UTLA research department disproved the structural deficit big lie and hammered the point of the $2 billion- dollar surplus before, and during the strike. A very popular and correct line from leadership was, “LAUSD’s three-year projections never come true.” In 2015 LAUSD predicted they would be bankrupt by 2018, only to be off by $1.8 billion!  

The unaudited actuals for 2019 show the District has a $2.2 billion ending balance for FY 2019. The board does not ensure public tax dollars are spent in equitable manner or spent at all. 

 UTLA leadership has stopped reporting on the  surplus and now mirrors district language about a looming three year financial crisis. Once in control CORE-LA will never take their eye off the budget of LAUSD because this money should be used to service students not sit the LA County Treasury collecting dust.  This is central to our campaign.  

UTLA leaders clamor about the charter school drain of $600 million a year, the financial impact of charter cherry picking, the hoarding of money etc, yet then turn around and endorse people who are part of the problem. This is what the lesser of two evils approach brings to the working class. 

UTLA retired president John Perez says this union will “commit suicide” by not endorsing candidates like Patricia Castellenos for school board. I would contend the opposite. UTLA is committing suicide by pursuing this failed approach of endorsing moderate school board candidates who either can’t or won’t do much to stop the privatizers. 

Only the People can Abolish the Charter System

Politicos prefer to live in this world where everyone gets what they want so they can maximize votes. Instead of seeing the entire charter school system as inherently separate and unequal, they believe the “bad” actors can be weeded out to restore equity.  On top of that they do very little to shut the “bad actors” down.  The charter system will always produce the “bad actors” because it gives license to corporations to segregate students and mismanage public funds. The charter system has to go! But you will NEVER hear Mckenna, Schmerelson, Goldberg or Castellanos even whisper those words because it is not in them to fight the privatizers.  Their method instead is collaboration with them.  Their elite social-political circles would vilify them for taking a principled stand for the masses.  So, UTLA will waste millions in teacher money to get these four elected and LA will get more charter schools in return.  AB1505 is designed to pacify the anti-charter majority wile doing nothing to stop charter expansion.  The people have to act directly to take their school district back.   

CORE-LA is utilizing this campaign season to point the people in the right direction.   The millions thrown away on board races could be creatively used to really educate the people about the evils of privatization. It is not too difficult to organize the people to engage in direct action against the charter school agents, and endorse organic candidates and legislation that take a principled stand against privatization. In doing this we educate the public year-round, not just during campaign season. 

When the people are armed with knowledge about their fleecing they will join labor in the Just Cause against privatization. However, when the people are pacified with social elite board candidates and weak legislation like AB1505 they will sit back and wait for a miracle that will never happen. 

How LAUSD Practices Budget Deception and Who Pays the Costs.

LAUSD Out Maneuvers UTLA in Public Relations

Students need low class sizes, psychologists, counselors, librarians and teachers that are motivated to do one of the toughest jobs in America, yet the dictators of public funds always cry poverty in the face of reasonable demands. Their number one tool is propaganda to manipulate public opinion. As we discuss the School Board and Bernie it is important we don’t lose site of the budget.

UTLA leadership did a great job exposing LAUSD for hoarding money but has not followed through on the central demand of the strike, to actually get the district to spend this surplus on the students.

The city supported us in the strike because of our righteous demand to spend the surplus on the students. Yet one year later we see the ending balances continue to grow to $2.22 billion, while students go without additional services, sit in crowded classrooms, and suffer counselor ratios over 500 to 1 . A month before the LA teacher’s strike a state appointed fact finding panel confirmed that a $1.86 billion surplus existed. The billionaire superintendent immediately responded in a press conference espousing the structural deficit myth and projecting a $500 million operating budget for fiscal year 2018-2019.

The Superintendent was off by Over $700 mil!

An examination of the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 year end unaudited actuals show there was actually a surplus of $220 million (the year end balance for 2018 was $1.99 billion, and the year end balance for 2019 was $2.22 billion). The superintendent and his team was off by over $700 million! This is quite an accounting error. Regardless, the available funds could have covered roughly 2,000 new positions, or 2 per school.

How many new positions were hired a result of the strike? Four days before we walked out, the district’s offer was up to $130 million for staffing of 1,200 positions which included teachers, a full time nurse at every school, an additional counselor at each high school and more librarians. In a district with 1,000 schools this is roughly one extra position per school. We didn’t feel this was enough, were determined to get more for our students and moved forward toward the work stoppage. The two sides entered into closed negotiations as the strike began, so it remains unclear exactly how much additional investment was made as a result of the work stoppage. What is clear is that there was no additional staffing at most schools in 2019-2020.

New Leadership is Needed to Fight for Budget Transparency and Win a True Teacher’s Contract.

It is clear we need to continue the public pressure on LAUSD to use ALL our, taxpayer resources to fully fund public schools. Unlike for profit companies, non profit institutions like public school districts are supposed to use all their resources on their public mission, not hoard it. A budget committee is needed at UTLA to study every move the district makes with taxpayer money along with an ongoing public campaign around district finances. For the sake of teachers and students, the money hoarders must be driven from the district now!

Union Power, the caucus that runs UTLA refuses to continue this fight for budget transparency. Since the end of strike they have completely dropped the main rallying cry of the growing reserve and adopted LAUSD language of a structural deficit driving the district into insolvency in a few years.

A Caucus of Rank and File Educators, CORE-LA, has emerged to fight for full funding our our schools. We are not afraid to speak truth to power and call out the traitors. Our platform is to end privatization, stop budget manipulation of LAUSD, win a true teacher’s contract, and activate parents and students to fight for their schools rather than waste teacher money on privatizer friendly politicians. CORE-LA will lead teachers forward, Union Power will pacify teachers to accept the status quo. Contact us through our website or on facebook. If you are a UTLA member vote Soni Lloyd for president.