Los Angeles school district needs a hard reset

By Larry Sand
February 4, 2020

LAUSD and UTLA leaders are leading us down the road to financial ruin.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that tax-grabbing state bureaucrats were pushing hard-working Californians to the brink. Incompetence, mismanaged money and union greed have turned the formerly Golden State into a failing enterprise. Here, I will focus on the Los Angeles Unified School District and its union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, both of which have done more than their share to contribute to the state’s demise.

After a six-day teacher strike in January 2019, the district and union settled on a contract that many questioned. Now, a year later, LAUSD officials admit to spending $18,788 per student. But in a mid-January interview with EdSource, school superintendent Austin Beutner indicated that the district gets just $16,402 from the state to educate each child.

Mr. Beutner went on to explain that LAUSD would have to borrow from future reserves to cover the hefty shortfall. Knowing that kicking the can down the road is a stopgap, he added that “we have to go to the Legislature and get more funding.” Which means, of course, “We need to raise taxes.” (Imagine your kid handling his allowance that way. He overspends. You get angry, but he says not to worry; he will cover the shortfall by borrowing from Grandpa! He ends with, “By the way, I need a bigger allowance.”)

The other angle of the stick-it-to-the-taxpayer scenario comes to us courtesy of UTLA leader Alex Caputo-Pearl, who sloughs off the problem by saying he is skeptical about “doomsday predictions.” He stressed the importance of getting the split roll initiative passed in November, which would have a devastating effect on businesses – and their customers – if passed, and likely lead to lower, not higher revenues. As a selling point, the union boss perpetuates the myth that California is 43rd in the U.S. in per-pupil spending. Yet, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the state actually ranks 21st in state education spending. The same report also informs us that L.A. is ranked 7th in per-pupil spending of the nation’s 25 largest school districts (and 11th of the top 50), coming in ahead of Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, et al.

Desperately trying to stay above water, LAUSD has been moving money from pocket to pocket, sometimes unethically. CalMatters’ Dan Walters writes that researchers at UC Berkeley in 2015 “concluded that LA Unified had shifted most of the extra money it received to improve the educations of poor and English learner students into general purposes, such as salary increases.” Despite complaints by civil rights groups, the district has not changed its ways. Walters adds that LAUSD “appears on everyone’s list of managerial basket cases” and “constantly flirts with insolvency by persistently overspending revenues and looks to Sacramento for bailouts.”

In fact, the state is hardly starved for edu-bucks. The California Department of Education projects total state expenditures for 2019–20 from all sources to be a record $214.8 billion, with a great deal of that headed for LAUSD, the state’s largest school district. And the gluttony seems to have no bounds. Another potential tax grab is coming to California in the form of a school bond, which will be on the March 3rd ballot. The ironically named Prop. 13, a “School and College Facilities Bond,” would authorize $15 billion in general obligation bonds for school and college facilities.

At the same time, we are pouring taxpayer dollars in education, the ROI is quite poor. On the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) just 30 percent of California 8th-graders scored proficient in reading and just 29 percent in math. And a measly 18 percent of Los Angeles 8th-graders scored proficient in reading and an even worse 16 percent did so in math.

LAUSD has been in a state of crisis for some time now. No one in charge seems to know how to run a school system, educate children and maintain a budget that doesn’t abuse taxpayers. About a year ago, both the county and state began to threaten a takeover. While this has not been talked of lately, it may indeed be the best route to go. If that happens, the district would lose its power and the labor contract with the union would go out the window.

When your computer is malfunctioning due to spam, viruses, bots, et al, the best thing to do is a “hard reset,” which eliminates all the crud and restores factory settings. All settings, applications and data that had been added by the user are removed. It’s time to reboot this broken system, and give students, their parents and taxpayers a fresh start. And the sooner the better.

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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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