Response to LAUSD charges over the article

LAUSD denounced my column I’m a Los Angeles teacher, and I am going to vote to strike (Los Angeles Times, 8/23/18) on its website, stating “The opinion-editorial published in the Los Angeles Times today and authored by Glenn Sacks contains numerous factual errors and false statements.” LAUSD then provides a list of said errors. They don’t come up with much.

Many of LAUSD’s criticisms of my column revolve around their repeated assertions that they do not have the money to pay for the improvements to our schools that UTLA wants. My Times column never asserted that LAUSD is free from significant financial issues. LAUSD and UTLA disagree over the magnitude of these issues and the extent to which these issues constrain LAUSD.

In a recent editorial, the Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board correctly stated:

“L.A. Unified’s finances have always been a murky business that few people have claimed to understand fully… It’s difficult for any outsider, including this editorial board, to say yes, the district can afford to do this, or no, it can’t.”

The Times also notes that LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner says “he intends to change” this. I hope that this will be the case.

Below I address each of LAUSD’s complaints, in the order LAUSD presented them. LAUSD’s full statement can be read here.

  1. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement “the district admits it has a $1.2-billion reserve. The teachers union believes the reserve is significantly larger” and reasserts “L.A. Unified currently has $1.2 billion in reserve.” However, on its 2018-2019 adopted budget submitted to LA County, the district lists their reserves at nearly $1.8 billion. To view this document, click here
  2. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement “From the union’s perspective, mediation should have started at the beginning of the month, but the district is stalling.” However, their counter backs up the column’s point.

    LAUSD counters “In accordance with California labor law, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) provided September 27 for mediation. L.A. Unified has accepted this date and PERB has confirmed.” But mediation with PERB could’ve begun in mid-August--the district has chosen to wait until late September. As UTLA notes, “The district has refused to be available for mediation until 56 days since the state appointed a mediator, which is unacceptable.”
  3. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement “The strike is scheduled to begin Oct. 3,” noting “A strike date before mediation and fact finding are completed would be a violation of the law and the parties’ agreements.” My statement in the article was worded poorly—it should’ve read "UTLA is preparing to be ready, if necessary, for a possible strike by early October.”
  4. Regarding the column’s statement “California ranks 48th out of 50 states in teacher-student ratio, and LAUSD is often the worst offender in the state,” LAUSD claims they are sympathetic to this problem but don’t have the money to address it, citing the district’s financial issues.
  5. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement “In one of the most expensive cities in the world, the average teacher’s take-home pay is roughly $5,000 a month” but their criticism actually reinforces the column’s original statement. LAUSD counters by stating “The average salary for L.A. Unified teachers is $75,000 annually”—in other words, around $5,000 a month in take home pay, as the column says.
  6. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement “‘Financial crisis’ is now invoked on an almost annual basis” to invoke Section 1.5 and raise class sizes. They counter by citing the district’s financial issues.
  7. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement on UTLA’s demand for more counselors, nurses and librarians, again citing their alleged inability to fund these positions. They counter by citing the district’s financial issues.
  8. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement “[LAUSD Superintendent Austin] Beutner calls the teachers union’s demands excessive.” They counter “Superintendent Beutner has never said the union’s demands are ‘excessive.’”

    The Times column doesn’t quote Beutner but asserts that he feels the union is asking for too much. This is a theme that runs through many LAUSD/Beutner statements and positions. Does Beutner now wish to assert that he does not believe the union is asking for too much?
  9. LAUSD is unhappy over the column’s statement criticizing LAUSD’s salary offer. They counter:
    L.A. Unified has already reached agreements with SEIU Local 99, AALA and CSEA which together, represent more than 60 percent of the District’s workforce. With raises totaling about six percent, these agreements demonstrate the District’s commitment…”
    But the current offer on the table for UTLA is 2% ongoing with a 2% one-time bonus. Moreover, other LAUSD employees have not been given a 6% raise. According to UTLA:
    “It’s a 3% ongoing salary increase, with a 3% one-time ‘wage supplement’ that only continues if the district says it has enough money next year.”
    I would add that it seems unlikely that LAUSD will agree they have enough money for a “wage supplement” next year.
  10. LAUSD is unhappy over the Times column’s statement on healthcare:
    “The increased cost for last year’s healthcare deal isn’t even paid by the district. Instead, the union, which had negotiated savings with the healthcare providers in past years, tossed some of those savings into the pot to cover the additional costs.”
    LAUSD counters:
    “Health care costs for active and retired employees are paid for entirely by L.A. Unified. L.A. District labor partners do not contribute union funds to pay for the health care benefits of the District’s workforce.”
    Yes and No. LAUSD is correct that my description of the mechanics of who pays is inaccurate—my mistake. Working together through the Health Benefits Committee, union and LAUSD representatives have been able to reduce the cost of next year’s Medicare plan by about $50 million. In other words, the unions didn’t help LAUSD pay the healthcare’s costs, they helped reduce the costs that LAUSD had to pay. It would have been nice if the district had acknowledged this in its statement.
  11. LAUSD is unhappy that the column’s states:
    “If Beutner the ‘kid advocate’ wants to know where he can find what’s best for children, that’s simple — it’s in United Teachers of Los Angeles’ contract demands.”
    They counter:
    “We all have a shared interest in putting kids and families first. For this reason, the Board of Education does not support a strike.”
  12. LAUSD is unhappy that I tied the anti-UTLA and allegedly independent "Hard Choices" report to LAUSD. According to Alex Caputo-Pearl:
    Austin Beutner's Task Force was created as a platform for him to campaign for superintendent. His Task Force contracted with ERS to do a faulty analysis, and then strategically planned, working with Beutner himself (who was superintendent by then) to bring it to the School Board.

    According to the Los Angeles Times, Beutner put “together and formerly headed the task force before taking the superintendent’s job in May. The new report, titled ‘Hard Choices,’ is based largely on the work of consultants, who delivered their analysis — confidentially — to Beutner’s panel in March.” This does not strike one as a very “independent” report.

    UTLA's full criticism of the report can be found here. The report was created to push an agenda of salary and benefit cuts, under the guise of being "independent." It also has a lot of methodological flaws.

UTLA’s contract demands are modest, reasonable, and child-centered. If LAUSD and the Board of Education do want to avoid a strike, they should make us a reasonable contract offer which addresses these issues.