The UTLA Follies is excoriated by reviewers

By Larry Sand
January 30, 2019

The horribly written, produced and directed teacher union play closed after six painful days.

Like a much-ballyhooed but awful Broadway show, the Los Angeles teachers’ strike had a six-day run and no one was happy with it. Except maybe the producers. In fact, United Teachers of Los Angeles leader Alex Caputo-Pearl called the new contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District “historic.” However, not all concerned shared Caputo-Pearl’s glee. Some used terms like “meh” and “horrible,” while many others used words that I cannot repeat in a family friendly blog.

On the plus side, the union did secure the hiring of 300 nurses, 82 librarians, and 17 counselors by 2020. But as the Wall Street Journal points out, the district had offered to add 1,300 teaching and support positions prior to the strike, so file this in the “meh” column. Also, as parent advocate organization Speak UP claims, LAUSD has been unable to fill 40 open nurse positions for which it already has funding.

Now for the rotten tomatoes. Many teachers hated the contract they ended up with. The union could have accepted the pay offer that they ultimately got without striking. The union leadership failed miserably here. While teachers gained two 3 percent raises, this year’s raise will be negated, as they won’t get paid for the time they missed while on strike. The rancorous class-size issue was pretty much a nothing burger. The new contract stipulates that in grades 4 through 12 class-size would be reduced by one student in each of the next two years and by two more students in 2021-22. A teacher on Facebook went ballistic when she read this, sarcastically claiming how much better she’d be able to sleep knowing that her class size would go from 28 to 27 next year. In fact, the UTLA Facebook page was home to teacher rage, including many educators who would have voted against the new contract had the window to cast their ballot not been so short. California Policy Center CEO Mark Bucher documents many of the teachers’ gripes here.

It’s not only teachers who gave the UTLA play a thumbs-down, but many parents are furious too. The contract includes a stipulation that will force a board resolution, which calls on the state to cap the number of new charter schools until an impact study is done. The ultimate UTLA goal is to set a cap on charters, which provide an outlet for mostly poor and minority parents to escape the failing schools that the union oversees. In other words, don’t try to do better than your competition; instead do everything you can to kill it. Moreover, as California Charter Schools Association CEO Myrna Castrejón insists, a charter school cap will do almost nothing to solve the district’s financial problems. She asserts, “Independent experts who are not beholden to the district, UTLA or charters have stated clearly and unambiguously that L.A. Unified would be facing a fiscal crisis even if there were no more new charter schools.”

Serious education reformers? They, too, gave UTLA’s theatrics zero stars. As Chris “Citizen” Stewart solemnly notes, “I look at this and other teacher tantrums with a stoic gaze because between yesterday and today nothing material has changed for the undereducated children of Los Angeles.”  Stewart and others who are truly concerned with improving our dismal education results realize that the strike did nothing to actually improve things for thousands of kids who desperately need better educators. Getting rid of underperforming teachers and eliminating the quality-blind seniority system that infects public education are union non-starters.

Not to be outdone in the complaint department, even the socialists gave the UTLA production a golden raspberry. On the World Socialist Web Site, Alan Gillman writes that LA teachers are “shocked and outraged over how the UTLA pushed through a contract that ignored their most critical demands…. One teacher described feeling like there was ‘a hole in her heart’ and reported seeing teachers crying because nothing they went on strike for was realized.” Gilman also writes that many were incensed about the short period of time they had to study and vote on the contract.

And talk about unhappy, the taxpayer’s turn is a-comin.’ UTLA and other unions will be campaigning for a $600 parcel tax which would raise $500 million a year. They are also promoting the “split roll” ballot measure, which would overhaul Prop. 13 if approved by voters in November of 2020. This could increase LAUSD revenue by another $400-$500 million a year ($6-$10 billion statewide). A much smarter source of income for the district would have been an adjustment to the give-away-the-house healthcare perks that teachers – current and retired – get in Los Angeles. But the union didn’t budge an inch on that issue, of course.

The taxpayer will also be on the hook for 30 new community schools with “wraparound services” like on-site mental health aid, caregiving, etc., though there is absolutely no evidence that these schools improve student learning one bit. Also, the union is crowing that in the new contract, there will be more “green spaces” on many campuses. Whoopee.

After the contract was agreed to by the union elite, Mike Antonucci wrote, “Had this exact tentative agreement been offered two weeks ago, the union would have rejected it.”

Antonucci is right. The whole mess was about theatrics – the ascendancy of Alex Caputo-Pearl to a California Teachers Association presidency, the positioning of the union as vital to teachers in the wake of the Janus decision, and sending a message to Governor Gavin Newsom that we need to spend more, more and more taxpayer dollars on education. But at the end of the performance, the actors and the audience got hosed – teachers, parents, kids, and taxpayers. Come to think of it, we’ve seen this play many times – different names reading similar lines, but it’s still the same damn play with the same damn ending. When the curtain came down, the boos drowned out the meager applause.

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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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