One Last Task For Jerry Brown

Prevent a strike at LAUSD

On January 7, Gavin Newsom will be sworn in as governor of California. On January 10, a strike has been scheduled by the LA teachers’ union (UTLA) against LA’s school system (LAUSD). A strike will impact 600,000 students — including many who get health and nutrition services at school — and their families plus the members of other unions that, unlike UTLA, have reached agreement with LAUSD.

There doesn’t have to be a strike. Here’s why:

Since taking office in January 2011, Governor Jerry Brown has presided over a big expansion of funding for California’s schools, including proceeds from a tax increase marketed to voters as additional financial support for schools:

But little of that revenue expansion has made it to LAUSD’s teachers. LAUSD’s revenues rose 24 percent between Fiscal Years 2013–14 and 2017–18:

Yet spending on LAUSD teacher salaries rose only 5 percent:

And the number of teachers declined 13 percent:

That’s significantly because LAUSD’s spending on retired employees — including retirement spending under UTLA’s control — surged. In 2013–14, 9.9 percent of district operating expenses went to retirement costs:

But retirement spending grew 84 percent​ over the next four years, boosting retirements’ share of operating expenses nearly 50 percent while dropping teachers’ share nearly 17 percent:

One-third of that retirement spending is for unnecessary, duplicative or excessive health insurance subsidies provided to retirees who already have federally-financed coverage from Medicare or the ACA. Terminating those subsidies could provide up to $350 million with which to shrink class sizes or boost salaries >$10,000 per teacher. UTLA controls the Health Benefits Committee that authorizes those subsidies.

Meanwhile, the LA County Office of Education says LAUSD’s fiscal situation is serious enough to potentially warrant the imposition of a fiscal advisor. The state’s Department of Education agrees. There is no money to spare. There will be even less money in the event of a recession, which Governor Brown has repeatedly warned is overdue.

Governor Brown is uniquely suited to settle matters between LAUSD and UTLA. He knows the politics and the math and has nothing to lose by trying. On the other hand, 600,000 kids and their families and LAUSD employees have everything to lose if he doesn’t try.

K-12 is the state’s largest General Fund expenditure. LAUSD is the state’s largest school district. A shutdown would harm 600,000 kids. Governor Brown should try his best to prevent a strike at LAUSD.

Originally appeared on Medium, 12/22/18.