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LAUSD’s Parcel Tax Failure and the *Reasonableness* of Teacher Pay in L.A.

June 13, 2019

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) includes “most of the city of Los Angeles, along with all or portions of 26 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. About 4.8 million people live within the District’s boundaries.” In 2018-19, LAUSD’s estimated enrollment was 694,096 students.

On June 04, 2019, voters within the LAUSD boundary could have voted to approve or reject Measure EE, a school parcel tax measure authorizing LAUSD to levy 16-cents-per-square-foot tax over 12 years to fund the LAUSD as follows, in brief:

Proceeds from the Tax shall be used for: lowering class sizes; providing school nursing, library, and counseling services and other health and human services for student support; providing instructional programs, school resources, and materials; retaining and attracting teachers and school employees; and providing necessary administrative services. …

This Measure requires a two-thirds (2/3) vote for passage.

The opportunity to vote was there, but oh so few chose to take it.

Measure EE failed, 45.68% to 54.32%. However, the greater failure of Measure EE is in its incredibly low voter turnout.  According to Los Angeles Almanac, 5.3M individuals were registered to vote at the time of the 2018 general election. So, even if all were not eligible to vote on Measure EE– even if only half were eligible– that would have been over 2.5M voters.

For Measure EE, only 304,321 voters participated (139,027 “yes”; 165,294 “no”).

One could think of that as one voter turning out for every two LAUSD students.

This appears not so much a rejection of Measure EE as it is a rejection of the right (and responsibility) to vote.

Unfortunately, low turnout is common in local elections. (In 2015, to entice voter turnout for a school board runoff between Bernard Keyser and Ref Rodriguez, LAUSD District 5 even entered voters in a lottery offering cash prizes. Even so, voter turnout was only 10%.) However, reading comments/opinions about Measure EE’s low turnout has introduced potential issues, such as an apathy that might be related to already high property taxes, a bloated LAUSD bureaucracy, as well as confusion around campaigning.

I haven’t seen any comments about LAUSD teachers being paid enough or overly paid.

In his June 06, 2019, Forbes piece about the failure of Measure EE, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) career think-tanker Frederick Hess does not address the issue of low voter turnout. Instead, he focuses mostly on the teacher salary component.

Hess implies that the average LAUSD teacher salary of $74,000 a year “strikes a lot of Americans as pretty reasonable.”

Let us take a moment to contextualize AEI and Hess.

The mission of AEI as listed on its tax forms is as follows:

The American Enterprise Institute is a community of scholars and supporters committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise. AEI pursues these ideals through independent thinking and the highest standards of research and exposition.

It should be noted that in 2018, Hess drew a comfortable $235K (up from $197K in 2013) as an AEI “resident scholar,” which has our armchair educator hovering nowhere near that “pretty reasonable” $74K he mentions. Furthermore, AEI president Arthur Brooks garnered an amazing salary boost from 2017 to 2018, doubled from $1.1M to $2.2M, and executive VP David Gerson also doubling his salary, from $526K to $1.1M.

At the end of 2018, AEI listed total net assets of $321M.

Hess pens his think-tankery about education from a plush perch.

He suggests that “when things get real… things can look very different in a place like L.A.” As his evidence, Hess relies on a 2018 Education Next survey in which participants thought that average yearly teacher salaries were thousands lower than the actual average teacher salary in their respective states; when participants were then informed of the actual average teacher salary for their state and subsequently asked if they thought the actual average salary should increase, decrease or stay the same, “support for higher pay dropped sharply—from 67 to 48%.”

Hess closes his piece as follows:

It’s entirely fair to argue that schools deserve more funds. But advocates, educators, and supposedly disinterested reporters have a bad habit of portraying even seemingly reasonable outlays and salaries as outrageously low. When things get real, and signs, radio spots, anti-tax advocates, and local chatter starts to flesh out the messy details, things can look very different to voters in a place like L.A.

This doesn’t mean Americans are penurious or unconcerned about schools. It just may mean that, when push comes to shove, it’ll take more than cheerleading and scare tactics to convince them that the money will be spent wisely and well.

But did support for higher teacher pay drop in Los Angeles?

This is not a national question. Thus, the national-level survey Hess references cannot answer it, which makes referencing it pointless as pertains to Measure EE.

As for that “reasonable” average LAUSD annual teacher salary of $74,000, let us consider how those $74,000 L.A. dollars translate into a salary elsewhere.

Even with a Ph.D. and 24 years of full time experience, I do not make $74,000 as a St. Tammany, Louisiana, public school teacher. In fact, I make $14,000 less.

Or do I?

According to NerdWallet’s Cost of Living Calculator, my current annual salary of $60,000, St. Tammany, LA, dollars buys the same lifestyle as would $92,716 in Los Angeles, CA. (In L.A., median 2-bedroom apartment rent is $2,757; in St. Tammany, it is $1,087.)

Let’s go the other way with that L.A. average annual salary of $74,000: How do those dollars translate into St. Tammany, LA, dollars?

According to NerdWallet, that $74,000 L.A. salary would buy as much as $47,888 does in St. Tammany, LA.

I would be hard pressed to live on an annual salary of $47,888 mid-career and would consider it an embarrassment and insult to be asked to do so. And yes, Mr. Hess, I would consider such a salary to be “outrageously low.”

But there is good news for Hess: If he moves to LA, according to NerdWallet, he only needs to earn $214K to maintain the buying power of his $235K DC salary. (Toungue in cheek, my friends. Tongue in cheek.)

Yet salary is only part of the Measure EE story. Class size reduction and addition of needed personnel were also a part. And then there is this:

Moreover, L.A. Unified must address its ongoing structural deficit so that it may continue offering high-quality educational programs to all of its students. A major shortfall and reductions are anticipated in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 and beyond. If not addressed, it will be necessary to implement harmful cuts to L.A. Unified programs, schools, and employees, including possible teacher and employee lay-offs and increased class sizes.

Possible increased class sizes in two years? Class size is already such an issue at LAUSD that it considered “capping middle and high school English and math at 39” as a January 2019 “significant reduction in class sizes” bargaining point.

Still, for Measure EE, multiple millions of L.A. voters did not show up, and of those who did, 165,294 said “no” to the additional funding, and so, the “no” has it.

Meanwhile, questions continue as to whether LAUSD officials “are artificially inflating the deficit” by over-budgeting and then under-spending. If that is what is happening, such a practice could well be putting the squeeze on classroom teacher salaries and untenable class sizes. Superintendent Austin Beutner notes that $42M has already been “saved” by cutting central office staff. What complicates the admin cost is that LAUSD employs more admin per student than California allows, which means LAUSD must pay $35M in penalties to the state. Beutner states that LAUSD has petitioned the state for an exemption to the rule of max 8 admin per 100 teachers. (LAUSD has 9.5 admin per 100 teachers.)

LAUSD’s three-year budget projections do not include adding staff and reducing class sizes.

Regarding his three-year budget projections, Beutner says, “We’d expect to provide a wage increase to those who work in schools.”

Not sure what Beutner’s “expecting” means, but it seems that an average annual salary of $74,000 L.A. dollars is only “reasonable” to those of notably loftier financial realities.

cutting the dollar


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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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  1. Linda Bassett permalink

    Love your blog.
    I am a teacher in UTLA. What I see is a bait and switch. When we were striking and our union was calling out the school district for sitting on 7 billion dollars. That was an outrageous amount of money to sit on and would go far to help buy support personnel and reduce class sizes.

    They also called out the billionaires for draining money from our public school system for their union busting, rip-off charter enterprises using public money to line their pockets and that they were going to pass legislation to stop this drain of public finances for public schools.

    Reforming prop 13 was emphasized to go after commercial properties that are still paying 1978 taxes to continue to lower class sizes and raise teacher salaries and add support personnel.

    Not until the very last day was any mention made about raising property taxes by 16 cent per square foot as necessary to fund education. It was announced as a great victory between the mayor, Garcetti, Beutner and the negotiating team. Many students and parent’s were there on the line with us. The public was watching as well. There was no questioning, or discussion just a lot of hooplah at what a great deal it was.

    So after this rah rah speech, teachers were given a few hours to return to their school site and decide whether to accept the new contract. After so many days of standing in the pouring rain and traveling back and forth to the downtown rally from school sites far away, they were exhausted. It was not enough time to think about the terms of the agreement. I do not even recall one mention of the bond measure as something to consider as a reason to agree or not to agree.

    So to me, it is no wonder people did not vote for it. They were never told during the rallies and speeches during the strike that this was a factor to consider. It was all about the existing billions, the regulation of charter schools, and reforming prop 13. The public and teachers want more money for sure, but they were not expected to have to foot any of the bill. They already are paying way more than their fair share. So that they rejected it is no surprise to me. It was the right reaction to a bait and switch maneuver.

  2. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    I taught for thirty years in the public schools in California (1975-2005) and I know I was never paid what I was worth.

    How do you measure worth?

    I worked on average 60 to 100 hours a week. Those hours included teaching, planning lessons, calling parents, taking work home, correct that work, doing grades, et al.

    Since I worked near LA Unified in South California, lets see how much I would have actually earned per hour based on that $75k.

    That $75k is based on a salary. Teachers do not earn overtime pay. A general guideline is approximately 36 weeks of instruction a year, which comes out to about 180 school days a year. That means during the school year I worked 2,160 – 3,600 hours (I worked more because the 36 weeks does not count holidays when I always took work home to catch up).

    $75k divided by 2,160 hours = $34.52 an hour.

    $75k divided by 3,600 hours = #20.83 an hour.

    The medium would be 80 hours a week or 2,560 hours and that would equal $29.29 an hour.

  3. AZ Sunflower permalink

    I moved to AZ from NE in 2018. I have a Master’s Degree in Education plus 36 graduate hours beyond that. In NE my salary was dependent on my professional development including college credits. After 17 years of teaching in NE I earned $76,000.

    Enter AZ: I completed my first year of teaching here. I grossed $48,000. The cost of living in AZ is fairly comparable to NE although housing here more expensive. I would like to ask Mr. Hess if he thinks my AZ salary strikes most Americans as “reasonable?”

    • Teachingeconomist permalink

      Why did you take the teaching job in AZ? Why do you remain?

  4. I already know I am going to be the subject of derision for expressing my point-of-view ……… screw it.

    Pertaining to expenditures for education , throwing more money at a problem isn’t the solution. There needs to be a firm budget with transparency on how the funds are being allocated. Preferably quarterly reporting detail every nickel and dime spent.

    The school system is a socialized service provider. The tax payer being the recipient of the service provided it should be made clear how their money is being utilized.

    If you purchased any product or service in the private sector, the expectation would receiving an itemized receipt of what was purchased.

    Pertaining to the salary mentioned AEI fellow, I have a different take on that. If the think-tank is privately funded I really don’t care how much he makes. That is the prerogative of AEI’s president. I know it may seem petty for him to quibble about the salary of educators. Then again, that is his opinion and AEI is more right-leaning. Such rhetoric really shouldn’t be surprising.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Los Angeles School Funding and the “Bait and Switch” | deutsch29
  2. Mercedes Schneider: Do Teachers Make a “Reasonable” Salary? | Diane Ravitch's blog

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