Teachers, your enemy is not your local school district, it’s a state that has made it clear when outlining its budgetary priorities, education is just not one of them.
Instead of using that playbook, the UTLA is barking up the wrong tree, and the losers are the students and families of Los Angeles, who are caught on the sidelines of a labor dispute that nobody can win. LAUSD and UTLA teachers have been arguing over pay for two years and there is no clear end in sight. In September, UTLA members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike as labor and contract negotiations reached an impasse. The teachers believe they deserve an increase in salary that is retroactive back to the 2016-2017 school year.
The teachers are right that they deserve a raise, but their union ignores the fact that the Los Angeles County Office of Education came to an LAUSD school board meeting earlier this year to warn that board they would not be able to remain fiscally solvent unless they make cuts. LAUSD’s proposal, even amidst a fiscal crisis was a 6% off-schedule salary increase and 15% administrative cuts. UTLA’s response: No, thank you.
Why would a bargaining unit ignore such an ominous warning from the county and push an already strapped district further to the brink? They are following the California Teachers’ Association (CTA) playbook to the letter. CTA trains local teacher bargaining units to fall in line with tactics they believe will make them most successful in obtaining the best agreements with their districts. Their tactics include misleading their membership, angering them as a result, singling out district administrators as the enemy, attacking the school board and urging parents and students to mobilize on their behalf. The goal is to make the district look like an evil selfish enterprise that does not care about its teachers.
Far too often, teacher bargaining units fail to negotiate for higher salaries and work conditions with all of their members in mind. They are willing to sacrifice their young and programs that are vital to students and families to pad their pockets and egos. In short, CTA advocates for bargaining practices that do more harm than good and their efforts are so far removed from doing what is best for children and families.
CTA believes their efforts to shake down local school districts is the best approach to address teacher pay, but trying to get water from a stone is a fool’s errand. We can concede the point that teachers are underpaid. But who is to blame? California is among bottom 40 states in per-pupil spending and we spend double the amount on inmates than we do on students. So the answer is clear, California needs to put its money where its mouth is with respect to how it says its values education and students. As it closes in on being the 5th largest economy in the world, it defies logic that California is not in the top five states in the nation in terms of education spending.
If teachers really want to move the needle on gaining adequate pay for teachers, they would lobby and mobilize against the state the way they rally outside of school districts and at school board meetings. They should partner with their local school leaders to advocate for funding to address their needs if their efforts are truly about doing what is best for students. What is certain is we have more bargaining units negotiating with their pensions in mind as they eye the finish lines of their careers.
So, what should be done? School board members and district administrators lobby Sacramento annually hoping to gain a little more relief with pension deficits, facilities needs, and means to address the high cost of living across the state; teachers should tag along. CTA and local teacher bargaining units need to keep that same energy they have when they march to school board meetings like an angry mob demanding to be path what they are worth and take it to Sacramento when the state crafts its budget.