The strike is finally over, and parents are breathing a huge sigh of relief that kids will be back in school with their teachers Wednesday. However, parents expressed deep disappointment with a deal that accomplished only minor class size decreases and underscored what was apparently UTLA’s main mission all along: to limit parent choices.
“The small tangible gains they made do not feel like it was worth a strike,” said Fang Huang, a parent at Broadway Mandarin Immersion program in Venice. “The gains were more in the political arena. It doesn’t seem like they gained that much for students.”
Teachers received the same 6 percent raises that LAUSD had been offering for months, and while UTLA got rid of a clause allowing LAUSD to unilaterally increase class sizes, that also had been offered before the strike began. The deal only decreases class sizes by one student this year, one student next year and two students in 2021-22 (contingent, perhaps, on the public passing a parcel tax).
While it’s illegal for LAUSD to bargain charter school policy as part of contract negotiations, it looks like that’s exactly what happened. In order to end the strike, UTLA appears to have held the district hostage and is forcing the Board to introduce a resolution at a meeting next Tuesday calling on the state to cap the number of new charter schools until their impact could be studied by the state.
It’s unclear whether the resolution has enough votes to pass -- and whether a vote on the new UTLA contract would be derailed if the charter resolution fails. Even if it does pass, only the state can place a cap on the number of charters, not LAUSD.
Nevertheless, parents saw it as a blatant power grab by the union and a clear attempt to overturn the results of the democratic school board elections in 2017, in which voters elected board members who were supportive of school choice. Parents are now gearing up for a battle -- potentially with Board members they had thought were in their corner.
“I’m infuriated,” said Roxann Nazario, a parent at a charter school in Board District 6 who campaigned for Board Member Kelly Gonez, who did not respond to calls or emails asking for her position on the charter cap resolution. “We elected her to protect us from this exact situation. I really hope she would never vote for this.”
Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) told Speak UP, “I don’t support a cap on charters. I’m a supporter of studying things, but we should start with [studying] the academic impact of charters.”
Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) and Richard Vladovic (BD7) did not return phone calls seeking comment.
UTLA’s attempts to limit parent choices drew strong condemnation from Katie Braude, executive director of Speak UP, who criticized the deal as harmful to LAUSD’s most underserved parents and kids.
“We are mystified by why the union insists on promoting this inequitable agenda,” Braude said. “Privileged families – those with high education and income levels – always have educational options for their children. They can afford to live in neighborhoods with high-performing schools. They can afford private schools, or have the time and sophistication to unravel the arcane magnet school and inter-district transfer rules.”
Those who would most suffer if a charter cap were to pass are impoverished kids of color looking for better schools. “Low-income children in LAUSD mostly live in neighborhoods with the lowest performing schools. Thankfully, they sometimes have the option to choose a high-performing charter school, and when they do, their lifetime outcomes are often vastly improved.”
In the contract itself, UTLA also gained some additional input over charter co-locations, although the tangible impact might be minimal. UTLA will have more of a voice in use of space decisions, but the union got no authority to sign off on co-location decisions.
UTLA often pits district and charter parents against one another with divisive language around co-locations, and that continued Tuesday. Nazario had been considering sending her daughter to a district pilot or magnet school for middle school next year. But UTLA’s proposed charter cap and language in its summary of the tentative agreement, calling charter co-locations “a threat,” made her so angry that she’s considering pulling her applications to district schools in favor of a charter middle school instead.
“This sense of entitlement that the money for my child’s education goes to them -- the only person entitled to that funding is my child, and I should be the one who chooses where that money’s going to go,” Nazario said.
District parents were equally troubled by UTLA’s obsession with charter schools, and judging from posts on social media, many parents and teachers felt like the strike was ultimately a large waste of time and money. Teachers lost seven days of pay, totaling $70 million. LAUSD lost $151.4 million in attendance revenue and suffered net losses of more than $81 million. Kids also lost more than a week of valuable academic instruction time.
“It seems like the main focus was charter control,” said one LAUSD magnet school parent. “Class size, [and] counselor caseload changes are so minimal, they aren’t likely to make a positive change. Overall, I’m glad I only kept my kids out a couple of days in support of my teachers. In the end, I knew the district and the union would screw us over. And that’s what we have here.”
Many parents and teachers had believed UTLA’s false rhetoric about the district hiding and hoarding money, but the details of the deal underscored the fact that the funding does not exist to make the kinds of dramatic changes many parents and teachers had expected.
“It’s tough when you say we have $1.8 billion, and then you have a deal that acknowledges we’ve already committed most of that,” Melvoin said. “Our investment in lowering class sizes and nurses and counselors reflects the financial challenges we have, and I appreciate UTLA’s acknowledgment of that, and we will go gradually.”
LAUSD schools made their biggest gains in securing funds for more nurses, in part because Los Angeles County agreed to add some additional funding for that. What many parents did not realize, though, is that LAUSD has been unable to fill 40 open nurse positions for which it already has funding.
LAUSD has not yet told the public how it plans to pay for this new contract, and the County has 10 days to decide whether to sign off on this deal. The agreement does nothing to tackle – and clearly exacerbates -- LAUSD’s serious financial problems. The district still has a $19 billion unfunded retiree health benefits liability and rising pension costs. Because the deal did not make lifetime retiree eligibility harder for new employees, this deal will likely only make the liability even larger.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said Tuesday that he’s still worried the district may go insolvent. All parties are now pushing for new sources of revenue, including a parcel tax in 2020, but UTLA’s repeated claims that the district already had the money could ultimately undermine that effort.
“That was always my fear in the riling up folks under false pretenses,” Melvoin said. “With the parcel tax, if I’m a voter who got whipped up by UTLA, it’s like, well, ‘I thought they have all the money. Why do I need to tax myself to give them more?’ That is a tension that’s going to be in the background the next few years.”
The contract also does nothing to help ensure that kids have an effective teacher in their classrooms. “There is no effort to address the inequities in teacher quality, such as seniority-based hiring and layoffs that contribute to the failure of neighborhood schools,” Braude said. “I’m baffled how people who call themselves progressives can support policies that promote persistent income and educational inequality.”