The United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union is demanding the Los Angeles Unified School District use a $55 million budget surplus to rehire 1,200 teachers laid off in the last year.
“This is a serious, serious matter, and the money is there to alleviate it,” UTLA President Warren Fletcher said. “The school board and the superintendent need to act now. We have already burned a month of school. We can’t burn a whole school year.”
Los Angeles school district officials already agreed over the summer break to tap some of that $55 million budget surplus to restore several hundred nonteaching jobs. But the teachers union claims a new state law requires rehiring teachers as well.
New Law Bars Layoffs
Assembly Bill 114, which Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed in June as part of the state budget deal, bars school districts from laying off teachers to mitigate midyear budget shortfalls. UTLA insists the law clears the district to rehire thousands of teachers let go in the past year.
The law requires districts to assume the same level of funding as last year and maintain staffing levels consistent with that budget number. Lisa Snell, director of education and child welfare at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, says UTLA’s demands “ignore the fiscal realities of L.A. Unified.”
Spending what may well be a onetime budget surplus on hiring “spells financial disaster for every district in the state,” Snell explained.
District officials “know there will be midyear cuts,” she said. “But [districts] have no contingencies. They’re not supposed to consider anything beyond right now. It’s like spending all of your money today without thinking about your house payment due next month.”
‘False Solution to a Real Problem’
Fletcher spoke to reporters on Oct. 6 in front of Manual Arts High School, a South Los Angeles school facing crowding and management problems. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the school, which was built for 1,000.
The school is currently operated by L.A.’s Promise, a nonprofit charter management organization under investigation by the district for alleged mismanagement.
Lance Izumi, a Koret Senior Fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, says AB 114 will do little more than exacerbate ugly trends.
“Using AB 114 to go back to the status quo ante at failing schools like Manual Arts High will do nothing to improve student achievement,” he said. “The UTLA is once again offering up a false solution to a real problem. Putting back blatantly ineffective staff will do nothing to improve student performance.”
Lagging Before Layoffs
Teachers union officials say the district needs to rehire teachers to address classroom overcrowding.
“We have gigantic class sizes. We have Algebra 2 classes with over 50 students. We have P.E. classes with over 80 students,” Fletcher said. “If you’re a seventh-grader and you’re in one of those ridiculously overcrowded classrooms…. Well, you don’t ever get to be in seventh grade again, so it is something that needs to happen now.”
Izumi, however, points out that in 2009, before the layoffs, more than 95 percent of students at Manual Arts who took the algebra 1, geometry, or algebra 2 state exams “failed to achieve at the proficient level.”
Given the district’s poor track record in low-income and minority neighborhoods, officials would do more good by offering parents more educational options, Izumi says.
“LAUSD should copy the district voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado and give parents and their children at failing schools like Manual Arts an immediate exit ticket to better-performing schools in the private sector,” he said.
Kyle Olson of the Michigan-based Education Action Group says UTLA’s gambit underscores the misplaced priorities of the union and the school district bureaucracy.
“Public school spending is unsustainable because politicians are more interested in looking out for their special interest friends than creating high-quality schools that are student-centered,” Olson explained. “Artificial fixes such as these will do nothing to improve student achievement but will do wonders for membership levels and dues payments for the UTLA.”
Image by Rachel So.