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Los Angeles School Funding and the “Bait and Switch”

June 15, 2019

On June 13, 2019, I posted about Measure EE, the proposed parcel tax that was supposed to fund K12 education for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The measure was not approved, with very few voters showing up to the polls either in support of or in opposition to the measure.

It seems that part of LAUSD’s funding problems has to do with the superintendent and board’s desire to sit on surplus money as well as a remarkable imbalance in overspending on administration (including having to pay the state penalty fees for having excessive administrators) at the expense in adequately paying teachers and hiring enough teachers so that class sizes are conducive to teaching and learning.

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In response to my post, Los Angeles teacher, Linda Bassett, offered the following informative, insider commentary in which she discusses a Measure EE-related “bait and switch” (I added links to aid in communicating the backstory):

I am a teacher in UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles). What I see is a bait and switch. When we were striking, our union was calling out the school district for sitting on 1.7 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, [Eric]Garcetti, [LAUSD superintendent Austin] Beutner and the negotiating team. Many students and parents 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.

Beutner and the LAUSD board majority that chose him (5 – 2) in May 2018 as LAUSD superintendent are quintessentially market-ed-reform: Beutner is a former investment banker with no background in education and a bent toward school choice. In July 2018, board member Ref Rodriguez pleaded guilty to felony and resigned; his vacant seat was filled by former board member and charter school critic, Jackie Goldberg, in a special election in May 2019. Goldberg’s election has shifted the dynamics of the pro-school-choice LAUSD, chiefly as concerns any plans Beutner has regarding charter school expansion.

As for Measure EE: Goldberg supported it even as she reportedly believes the LAUSD budget crisis is “exaggerated.” Goldberg also identified Proposition 13 passage as problematic for educational funding.

As for those squirreled-away, LAUSD billions, Goldberg had this to say in an April 2019 interview:

There’s a difference between a reserve and a surplus. OK, a reserve is exactly what they said, a reserve is money that has been pretty much allocated, but you didn’t spend it during the year you allocated it. So you’re reserving it to pay those bills as they come in.

A surplus is money that’s unallocated, and they had a $2 billion surplus, which they called a reserve. That kind of ticked me off a little bit — because I was there, I know the difference.

On its website, ULTA counts the Measure EE defeat as a “tough loss.” However, it seems that Bassett’s point about “bait and switch” is well taken. With Measure EE defeat in the past, it seems logical to turn attention from those 16 cents and once again focus on issues like the frozen commercial property taxes enabled by Proposition 13 as well as that $2B reserve– I mean– surplus.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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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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