Voters Reject Parcel Tax Needed to Pay For Contract Promises Made to Settle UTLA Strike  

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Despite 80 percent public support for the United Teachers Los Angeles strike in January, voters on Tuesday decisively rejected Measure EE, the parcel tax that was needed to pay for promises made to settle the strike, including lower class sizes and more hiring of nurses, counselors and librarians.

With a two-thirds majority needed to pass it, only 45.7% of voters supported the measure, while 54.3% voted no. Some mail-in ballots are still outstanding, but with 100% of precincts reporting on election night, 304,321 of the the 2.4 million eligible voters turned out to vote.

“We are deeply disappointed that Los Angeles voters did not support efforts to increase education funding for L.A. kids,” said Speak UP Founder and CEO Katie Braude. “Our parents worked very hard to pass this, and we will not give up efforts to lift California from its abysmal position near the bottom of states in education funding. I know that we can do better, and our kids deserve more.”

The results are a huge defeat for both UTLA and Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had urged Los Angeles Unified to take a “leap of faith” by making promises to settle the strike that the district could not afford without additional revenue. As a result of EE’s failure, Los Angeles Unified now has no way to pay for the third year of its new UTLA contract and may have to revisit some of those promises or make deep and painful cuts to both programs and staff.

Speak UP parents campaigned hard for Measure EE in order to help stave off harmful cuts, as well as potential insolvency or county takeover. Speak UP parents knocked on more than 10,000 doors to get out the yes vote for EE. Joining forces with Parent Revolution, parents from both organizations knocked on 20,795 doors in total.

Nevertheless, the more than $7 million campaign and joint efforts of organized labor and parents from both district and public charter schools were not enough to overcome a $2 million opposition campaign funded by the business community, which was concerned that commercial property owners would bear the brunt of a progressive tax.

In rejecting EE, voters sent a clear message that they did not trust the district to spend taxpayers’ money wisely to benefit kids. That message resonated in part because of relentless UTLA attacks on the district and its superintendent during the strike.

At the time, UTLA claimed (falsely) that LAUSD had more than enough money to meet UTLA’s demands and was merely hiding and hoarding it. Many parents who protested alongside teachers during the strike expressed shock that they were being asked to foot the bill after so much talk about LAUSD’s $2 billion reserve.

What UTLA failed to tell the public at the time was that LAUSD spends more than $500 million more every year than it brings in so the reserve would be depleted within three years. LAUSD’s latest projections show the district falling nearly $750 million below the required reserve by the year 2021-22.

In the midst of the strike, the Los Angeles County Office of Education took the unprecedented step of installing a team of fiscal experts to suggest budget cuts, and if LAUSD does not submit a balanced budget with a 1 percent reserve for the next three years, it faces a takeover and loss of local control.

Some voters said they rejected EE because they were skeptical that the funds would go to kids and teachers in the classroom. Labor unions insisted that a provision preventing EE funds from going to retiree pension and healthcare liabilities be struck from the measure passed by the LAUSD board, which eroded public trust. Opponents insisted that LAUSD should reform its spending, specifically its unusually generous retiree health benefits, before asking taxpayers for more funds.

The vote was also a resounding critique of an educational status quo that largely fails kids in under-served communities. It points to a need for educational justice and kids-first change to create more equitable outcomes for low-income kids of color in order to gain the public trust. Fewer than half of LAUSD graduates are even eligible to apply to a four-year state university, and the district’s racial and socio-economic achievement gaps are shameful.

While UTLA and charter schools joined forces in support of Measure EE, which would have benefitted all public schools, UTLA diverted a great deal of its activist energy away from the EE effort at a critical juncture by sending teachers to Sacramento to lobby for a divisive set of bills to harm public nonprofit charter schools.

Nevertheless, the coalition that formed to pass Measure EE may well unite again next year to push for more funding at the state level through reform of Proposition 13. The so-called “split roll” reform efforts would raise property taxes on commercial property owners, while leaving Prop 13 intact for homeowners.

LAUSD, however, cannot wait and hope that those efforts succeed. The district must submit a balanced budget to LACOE by the end of June and will likely need to outline specific cuts needed to balance the budget. That plan will likely involve layoffs, according to one high-level district source, which could hit non-teaching employees represented by SEIU Local 99 particularly hard. SEIU also campaigned for Measure EE.

Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4), who campaigned extensively for Measure EE, said that it’s “incumbent on this coalition to learn the lessons from yesterday’s defeat—most notably that voters believe LA Unified needs to do more to reform and improve outcomes for kids in addition to seeking increased investment. I have been a strong advocate for these reforms and remain hopeful that change is possible.”