Los Angeles Unified School Dysfunction

By Larry Sand
April 16, 2019

More bad news from the nation’s second largest school district.

According to a report released last week, less than half of the 2019 Los Angeles Unified School District graduating class will be eligible to attend one of the state’s public universities. There are 15 essential “A–G” courses, including English, math, and science that students need to get a C or better in to be eligible, and just 49 percent could hack it. Overall, the graduation rate is 76.6 percent. Well, sort of.

Grad rate numbers for students in Los Angeles should come with a giant asterisk after it because the district offers credit recovery classes, which help pad the count. Typically, these courses are online, rigor-free, and require little effort to get a passing grade. In 2016, the American Institutes for Research released the results of a study on the effect of these courses for Algebra 1, and found that they failed to improve students’ general comprehension of the content.

Just what is the school district doing to do to improve things? District Superintendent Austin Beutner came up with a plan – 300-plus pages-worth, in fact – that would decentralize power and give more juice to principals and smaller “support networks.” However, it seems that January’s United Teachers of Los Angeles strike cowed Beutner, and his grand plan was scuttled.

In another suck-up to the teachers union, the school board voted 5-1 to ask the state to impose a charter school moratorium. It seems that only one board member, the reliable Nick Melvoin, truly understands that it’s more important that parents have a way to escape a failing district school than placating UTLA.

As a sop to parents, the school district did set up an online accountability website with statistics about the performance of individual schools. But the site is not user-friendly at all. The most recent data is two years old, and there is very limited information about the district’s choice programs. Parents are not happy with it, to say the least, finding it “very frustrating and disappointing.”

The news is equally bad, if not worse, on the fiscal front. Just before the report about its poor education record was issued, the district received yet another pointed letter from the Los Angeles County of Education, asserting that the school district’s spending has led to a “distressed financial condition.” The missive also cited LAUSD’s “inattention” to its $15.2 billion – and counting – unfunded retiree healthcare liability, as well as its inability to consider the long-term effects of its contract with UTLA. This could very well lead to a county takeover of the school district leaving the LA school board impotent. Furthermore, the state is watching very closely, ready to pounce if necessary.

As if all this was not bad enough, there is a school board election scheduled for May 14th. Board member Ref Rodriguez was forced out due to his part in a money-laundering scheme, setting up an election to complete his term, which ends in 2020. The favorite to win is Jackie Goldberg, a former board member, who might as well be on the board of UTLA. Mouthing the union line, Goldberg claims that the district is really in the black and is sitting needlessly on money it could be spending now. The district maintains it is committed to spend all of it to avoid going deeper into debt.

So with its poor academic record, mounting debt and a union-kiss-up mentality, what is the district going to do next? Try to tax the people. As if the people living in La La land, who reside in the state of Taxifornia, weren’t throwing enough money at the government, LAUSD has placed a parcel tax measure on the June 4th ballot. Its goal is to raise $500 million annually over a 12-year period.

The proposed tax will be determined by the size of the lot: 16 cents per square foot. Owners of large apartment buildings and commercial properties will be especially hard-hit. However, this will affect more than just them. Rents will go up, as will prices on goods made by affected businesses. Additionally, as Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal points out, the measure says the money must be used to support schools, “but that is so general that all the money could be spent on pensions and retiree benefits, with not one cent going into classrooms.”

If your kid kept the car you gave him in lousy shape, used it recklessly, and then asked for more money to do more of the same, would you oblige him? Of course you wouldn’t; you would ground him. Time to apply the same action to LAUSD. Mommy County and Daddy State need to step in and fix the mess. Now. Before the taxpayers shell out another nickel. The LAUSD/UTLA act has gotten very old in a big hurry.

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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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