By Mark Ridley-Thomas, Diane Watson, Steven Bradford Curren Price
As public servants – some of us are former educators as well – we have learned valuable lessons about the classroom:
First and foremost, teachers are truly unsung heroes who make a real difference every day by enabling and empowering students to achieve their dreams.
Second, teachers are underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated while facing daunting challenges. Nowhere is this more evident than the Los Angeles Unified School District, where nearly two-thirds of students struggle to read, write and speak English fluently.
Third, teachers and students alike cannot perform at their peak efficiency when classroom sizes are too big.
The union leaders representing Los Angeles Unified teachers would have us believe that the solution to these problems is waging a strike that would disrupt the lives of so many students and their families.
Today, more than 400,000 students who live in poverty, 60,000 special needs children and 20,000 homeless kids rely on LAUSD for essential services, including serving 1 million meals a day.
Since taking office in 2014, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl has repeatedly threatened to instigate a strike against LAUSD. Caputo-Pearl has now put a strike ahead of the well-being of our children.
We see no reason for a strike and implore Superintendent Austin Beutner and UTLA leaders to rethink their approach at the bargaining table by putting the needs of students first
A strike won’t resolve the many pressing issues confronting the nation’s second largest school district.
A strike won’t provide the infusion of funds needed to avert the looming insolvency of Los Angeles Unified.
A strike won’t get UTLA all of their demands.
The facts are clear: Los Angeles Unified is on the brink of financial disaster. Independent experts who have inspected the district’s books have confirmed that the $1.8 billion reserve is a mirage. Indeed, all of the reserve money is earmarked to be spent within two years.
With a deficit projected to surpass $400 million in the upcoming fiscal year, the district may become obligated to spend more outside the classroom than inside.
That means the current “surplus” won’t save LAUSD from having to declare bankruptcy and be taken over by the state or broken up into separate districts if the LAUSD is forced to make further economic concessions to resolve a strike.
We’re already seeing this scenario play out in the Sacramento City school system, where public school leaders say they will run out of cash by the end of this year.
California school districts receive state funding based largely on attendance. In Los Angeles Unified, enrollment has declined precipitously, to 500,000 students today from a peak of 700,000 in the 1990s.
Already, California ranks near the bottom with states such as Mississippi and Alabama in funding levels for K-12 education. By comparison, New York City, the nation’s largest school district, provides more than $20,000 per pupil while LAUSD provides $15,000 per student.
Amid this bleak financial picture, most people agree on the priorities moving forward for Los Angeles Unified students and families.
• Teachers make incredible personal sacrifices to help their students succeed and they should be paid more. Both sides have agreed to a 6 percent salary increase recommended by a neutral Fact Finder.
• Smaller class sizes and more teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians are needed to make our schools better.
• A renewed focus on the classroom begins with recruiting and retaining talented educators.
We urge leaders for LAUSD and UTLA to put aside their differences and put the needs of children first. That starts with negotiating a fair settlement in good faith to avoid a strike and working together to demand more federal, state and local funding for our schools.
Los Angeles County’s economy is the 17th largest in the world. An insolvent school district sends a very bad message and weakens our economic strength. It is incumbent upon all of us to find a way so that future generations of Angelenos are empowered to lead our industries and to live in thriving communities.
Mark Ridley-Thomas is a Los Angeles County Supervisor representing the Second District, and former schoolteacher; Diane Watson is a former Congressmember and LAUSD Boardmember; Steven Bradford is a State Senator representing the 35th District; Curren Price is a Los Angeles City Councilmember representing the Ninth District, and community college instructor.