UTLA’s crisis is here

By Larry Sand
January 1, 2019

Union boss’ orchestrated state crisis is well underway in Los Angeles. 

United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl’s long sought-after teachers’ strike is set for January 10th. He began the long march back in 2016 when he forecast a walkout and also boasted about the union’s ability to “create a state crisis” in 2018.

Though he threatened a state crisis, the UTLA honcho interestingly pooh-poohs the one that is right under his nose in LA. Under the tutelage of Caputo-Pearl’s teachers, 52 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District schools earned a D or F in English language arts, 50 percent earned a D or F in math, and just 40 percent of all students are graduating college or career ready, according the California School Dashboard. I would call that an education crisis.

LAUSD management has also been involved in the crisis business. Over the years, too many school board members have used the taxpayer as an ATM with no consideration given to the bottom line. So now the school district is rapidly careening down the road to insolvency so fast that the county and state are threatening a takeover. In fact, LAUSD is bleeding money so rapidly that unless something changes, the district will be broke by 2021. The eminently sensible government finance expert David Crane has suggested a way to help. He says that LAUSD spends more than $300 million a year on healthcare subsidies for retired employees, including retirees who are already entitled to Medicare and other subsidies funded by the federal government. If the district were to cut the unnecessary insurance, the money could be put back into the classroom. But the union-influenced Health Benefits Committee, which determines employee and retiree health plans, has nixed that idea.

Austin Beutner, the beleaguered LAUSD Superintendent, clearly understands the gravity of the situation. After the fact-finder’s report – the last step in the legal process, after which UTLA can legally strike – he claimed that meeting UTLA’s demands would probably be unlawful. “They would cost about $900 million and would instantly lead to more than 10,000 layoffs or a state takeover.” He added that it would leave the district insolvent and ultimately a ward of the state.

But Alex Caputo-Pearl is not having any of this insolvency stuff. He constantly portrays Beutner as an out-of-touch, greedy, privatizing, capitalist billionaire who is wrong about everything, as well as being a disciple of Betsy DeVos and a champion of “unregulated” charter schools.

Speaking of charters – either as a distraction or as a way to send a message to incoming governor Gavin Newsom – Caputo-Pearl has become obsessed with the issue, claiming that they are growing too fast in LA. Of course, they grow as the need and demands arise; no one forces a family to send their kid to a charter school. Parents typically do so because the zip-code mandated traditional public school just ain’t cuttin’ it. (See paragraph 2.)

Anti-charter sentiment was also brought home by UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye, who sat for a lengthy interview with Jacobin, a magazine that offers “socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” (How perfect!) In addition to blasting “unregulated charter schools” Inouye also shows she is no fan of the Dems or the GOP. She avows, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a red state or a blue state, we’re facing the same attacks on public education. Corporate Democrats are getting money from the same billionaires and corporations as the Republicans, so essentially all public educators in this country are targets.”

So I guess, for Inouye, the fact that most students in LA graduate knowing so little is because of those heartless, greedy billionaires. Okaayyy….

I suspect that Inouye may be angling for Caputo-Pearl’s job, not that he is thinking of riding off into the sunset, mind you. In fact, he is obviously aspiring to be far more than just a local union leader. After the last LA teachers’ strike in 1989, UTLA kingpin Wayne Johnson went on to become president of the California Teachers Association. The nakedly ambitious Caputo-Pearl seems to working from that script. If there are any lingering doubts about the above scenario, they evaporated in Caputo-Pearl’s 53 minute hellfire-and-brimstone state of the union address to UTLA insiders last summer.

Okay, back to the strike. The schools will remain open on January 10th, and for however long the strike runs. To make up for the lack of teaching staff, LAUSD has hired hundreds of substitutes. The unionistas are especially vexed because there are rumors that the district will be paying the subs $400-$500 a day for their services. LAUSD is not commenting on where they are getting the subs or how much they are being paid. (For specifics about strike issues, go here and here.)

Parents are mixed on the looming strike. Some are on the teachers’ side, while others are furious at the union. The latter camp includes parents from Speak Up and Parent Revolution, two organizations that represent the interests of parents and their kids. Gardena resident Keisha Khaw, the mother of an elementary school student, gets right to the heart of things. She states, “Right now so many of our children in our community don’t have the teachers, the school nor the education they deserve. We demand that the contract makes sure that the best teachers can reach kids in the highest needs schools. We demand a contract that makes sure that ineffective teachers don’t remain in the classroom with our children.”

But Khaw’s needs, and those of all parents, are of little concern to the UTLA leadership. It’s not that Caputo-Pearl, Inouye, et al want bad teachers in the classroom, it’s just that they have higher priorities, like maligning charters, building corporate strawmen to attack, paying retirees and their spouses comprehensive health insurance for life and insisting on archaic tenure and seniority laws, that make it almost impossible to get rid of a teacher no matter how ineffectual or perverted they are. And, of course, unions at the state and national levels spend oodles of dough to ensure that politicians are elected who will perpetuate the failing status quo and keep the union’s gravy train in motion. Then come the needs of school kids and their parents. Last. As usual.

I’d call that a crisis.

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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