Education establishment put kids and taxpayers last

By Larry Sand
March 13, 2018

Three hundred “must place” teachers in Los Angeles don’t work, but are still on the payroll.

What does a school board do with teachers whom no principal wants to hire? In New York, that problem was “solved” this past fall when Mayor Bill De Blasio and school chief Carmen Fariña, began to unload the so-called Absent Teacher Reserve – 800 or so teachers from schools that closed or whose jobs may have been eliminated – on principals who have little say about it. Many of these teachers are inept, have checkered pasts, and have sat idle for years because no principal wants to hire them, but firing them is next to impossible. So they do no teaching but collect their paychecks, get yearly raises and add to their already bloated pensions.

Los Angeles now faces the same problem. Three hundred “must place” teachers are not in the classroom, but are still on the payroll. In an era when shrieks about “teacher shortages” are commonplace you’d think it would be easy for these educators to find work, right? But no, they are not employed because no principal wants to hire them. Well, you say, why not just cut them loose the way any company in the private sector would? The answer to that logical question is that the government and its unions don’t play by the rules that the rest of us do. Like New York, because of laws enshrined in the state education code and the local district-union contract, these teachers cannot be canned.

The LA school board recently kicked the issue around. Reformer Nick Melvoin opted for the most logical solution when he stated, “My response would be, get rid of them all.” Scott Schmerelson, who never met a union diktat he didn’t like, reminded Melvoin “Execution is not part of the deal.” Richard Vladovic, a third member of the seven-person board took something of a middle road when he suggested, “Smaller districts tend to buy these teachers out.” Sadly the latter is probably the most realistic scenario: just bribe the unwanted teachers to finally go away.

As the school board poohbahs dither about how to deal with the unwanted teachers, some disturbing statistics have been released. The LA school district laughably brags about its 84 percent graduation rate, but fails to acknowledge that this impressive statistic is a smoke-and-mirror attempt to mask what Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, recently referred to as “uncomfortable truths.”

  • 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts.
  • 50 percent earned a D or F in math.
  • 69 percent of schools rated for African-American students earned a D or F in BOTH English and math.
  • 40 percent of all students are graduating college or career ready.
  • 39 percent of Latino students are graduating college or career ready.
  • 30 percent of African-American students are graduating college or career ready.
  • 17 percent of English learners are graduating college or career ready.

In light of these wretched statistics, a fourth board member – the teacher union-endorsed George McKenna – audaciously brought the union into the conversation. “I have openly said to my friends in the union, as long as we have underperforming non-charter schools in this district, and you keep protecting the employees at the expense of the children, you are not helpful to this process.”

Well, McKenna’s “friends” haven’t shown any love to him or any of the kids in LAUSD on this issue. Perhaps it’s because the United Teachers of Los Angeles is involved with much weightier things than quality education. As Mike Antonucci wrote last week, the union is furious at the “corrupt four-member school board majority,” for not disobeying Prop. 39, which requires school districts to make facilities available to public charter schools serving students who reside in the district.

The union is also working on shady ways to collect money from teachers in light of a possible ruling for the plaintiff in the Janus v AFSCME case, which would make paying dues to a government union voluntary. Asking teachers to sign a bizarre “contract” that would force them to pay dues even if they leave the profession is one of their schemes.

Additionally, the union will soon become involved with a ballot initiative that, if successful, would repeal Prop 13 protections on commercial properties.

Oh, and just in case the above isn’t awful enough, UTLA boss Alex Caputo-Pearl has already threatened to “create a state crisis” and a possibly a teachers strike later this year.

As Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation, points out, organizations don’t disrupt themselves. Getting government schools and their unions to veer far from their modus operandi is not realistic. Change must come from the outside. Hence the best opportunity for great teachers, kids and taxpayers is a system of competitive school choice where public money follows the child. Who knows? Maybe even a few of the 300 sit-and-do-nothing-but-collect-money-from-taxpayers teachers might find work earning an honest living.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.