Is UTLA Striking LAUSD into Bankruptcy…and Fundamental Positive Change?

FIRST PERSON-Our long-failing still segregated model of “non-education” at LAUSD needs to end and the looming strike by UTLA teachers might just be the best and most efficient way to accomplish this.

In the past, the biggest question surrounding every strike was how long teachers or other strikers could hold out -- without pay and benefits -- before they would compromise, give in, and settle. 

What’s different now is that LAUSD is already on the verge of bankruptcy, because of generations of fiscal mismanagement by its administrators, who over the years have become more and more captive to corporate vendors of goods and services sold at obscenely inflated prices under contracts that are rife with conflicts of interest. 

What's different in an LAUSD-UTLA strike today is that it is not just teachers who are under financial pressure to settle a strike; it’s also the nearly bankrupt LAUSD. 

A strike by UTLA with the support of their students' parents and an interim daycare program run by retired LAUSD teachers, to address parents’ concern for the safety of their children during a strike, would provide a place to send their children. It would also cut off Average Daily Attendance monies paid by the State to LAUSD for actual in-seat-student attendance. This might be what is necessary to force LAUSD into bankruptcy, in which a reorganization of the district would give power to educators, parents, and students instead of the current LAUSD administrative stooges. Their mismanagement continues to squander money needed to correctly run LAUSD with reasonable class sizes, pragmatic pedagogy determined by students' actual academic level, and fairly compensated, administratively supported teachers. 

The primary function of any school is to educate students. But this cannot take place in classrooms of 40 students or more where most of them are not -- nor ever have been -- at grade-level and where the unruly behavior of students profoundly behind grade-level causes constant class disruption. This makes has made it impossible for the teachers to teach. 

If you take a line from the 1976 film “All the President's Men" about Watergate and the downfall of the Nixon presidency, and you "follow the money" at LAUSD, you find it goes for everything other than lowering class size, teaching students, and fairly compensating teachers. 

Ironically, LAUSD of the 1950s and 1960s did exactly what was necessary. It spent most of its budget on the classroom. Its primary directive was to assure that few students were allowed to leave school without a fundamental education and the skills necessary to achieve higher education or learn a trade enabling them to become productive taxpaying members of society. There was no 50% dropout rate or students leaving school without basic literacy, where a disproportionate number of these predominantly minority students would predictably wind up incarcerated. 

The main factor leading to the rise in private schools (which can cost as much as $30 to $40 thousand a year) is that the minority of parents, predominantly White, who have the means to do so, are willing to pay to get their children away from the failure factories that LAUSD schools have become. And without the social capital of these parents in LAUSD, the district has only deteriorated more in terms of maintaining academic grade-level standards. 

Latino and African American students didn't start out as "inferior," but LAUSD’s purposefully failed academic environment as presently constituted has made it impossible for most of these minority students to fulfill their potential. 

In reorganizing a morally bankrupt and soon to be financially bankrupt LAUSD, a private school model that focuses on classroom size and the teaching of critical thinking skills should be the foremost consideration. 

This can be accomplished when these goals are insisted upon by parents, students, and teachers and not by counting on an unaccountable LAUSD with a self-dealing administration that is not able to democratically implement an effective public education system at a reasonable price. With the economics of scale, this can be accomplished for far less than $40,000 a year per student.


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles, observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second- generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.comLeonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.