Will Los Angeles teachers strike out on a bad pitch?

By Larry Sand
August 7, 2018

Using loads of bogus info, LA teacher union leader prepares teachers for a walkout in the fall.

In my post last Tuesday, I wrote about the many problems facing the Los Angeles Unified School District. Since then, one of the issues I detailed has moved front and center: the strong possibility of a teacher strike. In fact, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci is telling us to “Bet the ranch – UTLA will strike in October.”

Antonucci makes his case by pointing out that not only are the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the LA school district miles apart on key issues, but that the union leadership is itching to strike. It seems that UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl and other local union leaders were jazzed by the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, et al in the spring, and want to replicate them here in La La Land. For a union boss, an opportunity like this is made in heaven. He’ll get oodles of media ink, his face plastered all over the electronic media, and the opportunity to proselytize his budget-busting, collectivist vision for the city.

Also, Caputo-Pearl aspires to be far more than local union leader. After the last LA teachers’ strike in 1989, UTLA honcho Wayne Johnson became 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 were dissolved by Caputo-Pearl’s 53 minute hellfire-and-brimstone state of the union address to union insiders last week.

Loaded with lies, distortions, exaggerations, ad hominem attacks, threats, anger and self-righteous pronouncements, his talk would have made Billy Sunday blush – all in the name of fighting for public education, doncha know! Caputo-Pearl insists that the 2 percent district wage offer for teachers is an insult; the school board is driving a privatization agenda; (incoming district superintendent) Austin Beutner is an investment banker, has never taught, and is attacking the district healthcare plan; California is 43rd in per-pupil sending; we must wage a war for more state funding; charter schools siphon students and that their expansion is evil. He referred gleefully to Antonio “Mr. Privatizer” Villaraigosa’s political demise, touted his “common good” plan and community schools, demanded the establishment of an immigrant defense fund and more green space on school campuses. He also boasted that there will be a “Schools and Communities First” initiative on the ballot in 2020 (a challenge to Prop 13) which he claims will, among other things, put an end to “ossified institutional racism.”

But he put his already frothing flock over the moon when he said that he would soon be introducing a warrior who “takes on Trump and the Supreme Court every day” – Maxine Waters! Yes, according to the union boss, the woman who may be the most corrupt Congressmen ever is the second coming of Patrick Henry!

It would take a tome to refute every ounce of baloney that rolled off Caputo-Pearl’s lips, but I will briefly address just a few of his distortions. 

District pay: According to the salary schedule, starting teachers earn $50,368, while the average pay is $75,504, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. These numbers by themselves are deceptive, however. First, using U.S. Department of Labor data, researcher James Agresti explains that benefits – health insurance, paid leave, and pensions – typically comprise 33 percent of compensation for public school teachers. Including these perks, the average compensation for a teacher in LA jumps to about $113,000 per annum. Adding two percent is hardly an insult. Also, the old union ploy of comparing the pay of teachers to private industry employees is bogus. As Agresti points out, the latter work on average 37 percent more hours per year than public school teachers, and this includes the time that teachers spend on lesson preparation, grading tests, etc.

CA education spending: There are many ways to compute education spending, as EdSource’s John Fensterwald carefully details here. According to most available data, California’s per-pupil outlay is rapidly growing, and is not 43rd nationally, but actually 23rd.

Healthcare spending: Beutner is right; it does need to be seriously revamped. The give-the-store-away plan for teachers has led to a school district whose unfunded liability for retiree health benefits has risen to $15.2 billion, up from $13.5 billion in 2016.

Charter schools: Caputo-Pearl and many other unionistas love to make charter schools seem like vampires that suck blood from traditional public schools. But as Reason Foundation scholar Lisa Snell writes, charters account for only 13 percent of the district’s enrollment drop in 2017-2018. She places much of the district’s fiscal woes on it’s spending on pensions, health care, and special education programs which, by 2022, will be eating up over 57 percent of LAUSD’s main operational funding before a penny is spent on a regular school program. 

Community schools and bargaining for the common good: Caputo-Pearl wants to spend a lot more of your money. Community Schools, whose idea was cooked up during the Progressive Era a hundred years ago, have seen a revival of late in LA. The plan is to make schools into a one-stop shop for families with all kinds of “wrap around services” like welfare-to-work programs, a legal defense fund and foster care, all staffed by unionized personnel, of course. Caputo-Pearl claims that collective bargaining is “an important tool available to fight for equity and justice” and should go beyond issues like salaries and work rules. Like all good socialists, he envisions UTLA as a vehicle to push for collaborative policy alongside community organizations in bargaining for “the common good.”

The next step for the union is a strike authorization vote which will take place the week of August 23rd. In all likelihood it will fly, which could very well lead to a teacher walkout. Antonucci thinks the work stoppage will occur right after teachers get paid on October 5th. He writes, “If I were a Los Angeles public school parent, I would start researching alternative accommodations for my kids for the week of Oct. 8.

A word to the wise is sufficient.

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.