L.A. tax addicts looking to score

L.A. tax addicts looking to score

Union leader and the school district want more of your money to feed a bad habit.

United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl is on a mission. In an online rant to his flock, he makes a pitch for Measure EE, a parcel tax that will be on the ballot in Los Angeles on June 4th. Its goal is to raise $500 million annually over a 12-year period for the Los Angeles Unified School District. The proposed tax will be determined by the size of the lot: 16 cents per square foot. Thus, owners of large apartment buildings and commercial properties will be especially hard-hit. UTLA is spending big on EE; to date the union has poured $500,000 into the campaign.

Either through ignorance or mendacity, Caputo-Pearl’s spiel for the parcel tax is full of omissions, half-truths and demagoguery. In addition to the fallacious claim that “public education is chronically underfunded,” his harangue is peppered with broadsides against billionaires and “unregulated charter growth.” He insists that since many UTLA members are renters, “they will pay nothing” if EE passes. Maybe he hasn’t figured out that landlords will pass some, if not all, of the new tax on to renters. He also seems gleeful that “70% of the $500 million” will come from “mostly big businesses, many of whom have been shirking responsibility for public education for years.” Maybe he is ignorant of the fact that when business costs go up, so do the prices of the goods and services they offer.

Almost humorously, he laments that charter schools would also benefit from the parcel tax, claiming that there is “no legal way to prevent charter schools from getting a share of the monies proportionate to their share of enrollment, which is about 17%.” However, he then assures his members that UTLA is on the frontlines in Sacramento to “stop unregulated charter growth.” He adds that “we must get more money to our district neighborhood schools so that they are attractive places for parents to send their children. That money is EE.” Caputo-Pearl conveniently omits that charters in L.A. do a much better job than traditional public schools, and are doing it with only 73 percent of the funding.

Caputo-Pearl claims that should Measure EE pass, the money would go for class-size reduction, nurses in every school, more counselors and more librarians. But some – and maybe a lot – of the money would go to prop up the district’s out-of-control spending on healthcare and pensions. In fact, while the measure’s original language stipulated that EE money could not be used for “long-term healthcare or pension liabilities,” the final draft makes no mention of that prohibition. Honest L.A. school board member Nick Melvoin admits that until the board votes to reform its runaway spending, some of the EE money will never come close to the classroom.

One of the selling points for the pro-EE forces is that an oversight committee will be established. This entity would be required to produce public “yearly reports on basic revenue quantities, expenditure plans, and progress on student achievement.” However, the fox-guarding-the henhouse scenario and cooking up only a once-a-year review provides no real accountability.

Also, even many of the of the EE supporters are not confident that the district will effectively manage the additional funds, should the measure pass. Ken Marek, the father of a fifth-grader at an L.A. public school, said, “The district first needs to focus on delivering an educational service that families want to go to and being responsive to parents’ needs and demonstrating, by doing that, that they are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”

To state the obvious, the district has been anything but a “good steward.” You need to look no further than the recent contract with UTLA that it really could not afford, yet signed off on anyway, to know that. Businessmen especially seem to grasp this. Valley Industry & Commerce Association President Stuart Waldman puts things into proper perspective when he says, “We just need LAUSD to recognize that they’re failing and that they’re willing to make changes to become better. It’s like a heroin addict. They don’t think they have a problem, so they’re not going to show up for rehab.”

Before LAUSD/UTLA asks the taxpayers for another penny, they need to come clean and kick their habit. And as any junkie will tell you, that ain’t easy.

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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.

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