Post Traumatic Trump Disorder in L.A. Schools

LAUSD school busPost Traumatic Trump Disorder” is a condition affecting an abundance of Americans these days. Many of the president-elect’s supporters are “suffering” from excessive jubilance, while many of his detractors are in the depths of despair. As I pointed out recently in UnionWatch and City Journal, the latter PTTD group is making life miserable for children across the country. But Los Angeles just may be ground zero for the new disorder.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles (United Trump-Loathers Assn.?), led by its radical agenda-driven president Alex Caputo-Pearl, is planning a major whine-in before school on January 19, the day before the new POTUS is sworn in. The UTLA website informs us that the union “will show that educators are united with our students and our communities against Trump’s racially charged and anti-immigrant proposals and that we will continue to fight attempts to privatize public education.” The union is urging the public to join “tens of thousands of students, parents, educators, school staff, and community members … to shield our public schools from the Trump/DeVos/Broad agenda.”

Nothing like a little early morning shot of teacher-led political indoctrination that the kiddos can digest along with their Rice Krispies.

Actually, the early morning festivities on Jan. 19 are really just a kick off for what Caputo-Pearl sees as a two-year offensive. (“Offensive” has two meanings here.) The issues that are paramount to the union boss are “green spaces on a campus … a plan to achieve strike readiness by February 2018,” as well as fighting charter co-location and getting union acolytes elected to the school board in March.

By the way, the above pre-Inauguration Day merrymaking is not limited to Los Angeles. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a national network of far-left teacher union leaders (redundant, I know), is planning UTLA-like events across the country on Jan. 19. AROS insists that the “best way to ensure each and every child has the opportunity to pursue a rich and productive life is through a system of publicly funded, equitable and democratically controlled public schools.” In fact, one of their demands is “Billions of dollars for public schools in black and brown communities.” (I guess the $670 billion we now spend nationally on “democratically controlled public schools” isn’t enough for the AROS crowd.)

As the teachers union goes off the deep end, what is the Los Angeles school district up to?

Not surprisingly, the school board, suffering from advanced PTTD, is in a state of sheer panic. The mandarins who rule over the massive school district have set up a hotline to answer student questions as a way to deal with the regnant hysteria. While Trump has indeed made some questionable comments about immigration, the education establishment and a compliant media have blown things way out of proportion and worried many children needlessly. As such, the school board has absolutely no business dealing with frightened children; let their parents do that, please.

The school board members also spent time at a recent meeting passing resolutions as a hedge against actions that they think the Trump administration may take. Consulting “social-emotional learning experts” and declaring its schools “safe zones” are of paramount importance to them these days. Actually, if anyone needs a “safe zone” at this time, it’s students who dare to wear “Make America Great Again” hats.

Maybe the school board should instead focus on its mandate, which is to educate children and, at the same time, be judicious in how it spends the taxpayers’ money.

As for the education component, LAUSD, not to put too fine a point on it, is doing an abominable job. While California students did not fare well on the recent standardized tests, L.A. kids’ scores were in the toilet. In fact, 56 percent of the district’s 85 ranked middle schools were assigned the lowest overall ranking of 1 based on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, a test taken by students this past spring. The “good news” is that just 20 percent of the district’s elementary schools received the lowest rank, as did 31 percent of its high schools. (The latter number would be higher, but many poor performing 11th graders drop out of school before the test is given.)

Fiscally, LAUSD also deserves a “1.” As reported by LA School Report earlier this month, the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations in the future because it faces a cumulative deficit of $1.46 billion through the 2018-2019 school year. But LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly, maintaining a smiley face, assures us that with just the right combination of smoke and mirrors, the district may be able to winnow the deficit down to a mere $252 million. Don’t bet the barn on that, however.

So let’s see, in Los Angeles we have a radical union leader, hell-bent on indoctrinating kids, an inept school board whose actions are frightening children, all the while seriously maiming taxpayers, and doing nothing to ameliorate its abysmal record of educating children.

Happy New Year, y’all!

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Charters Under Attack – California’s Teachers Unions Go On The Offensive

ULTA protestFor years, teachers’ unions have tried to kill charter schools — but only on odd-numbered days. On even-numbered days, they tried to organize them. Things lately have become very odd, at least in California; the unions are in full-assault mode.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl has long groused about how charter schools don’t play by the rules. Teachers’ union talking points effortlessly roll off his tongue — billionaires this, accountability that. But on May 4, despite pleas by charter school parents, UTLA, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools — a union front group — planned a major protest outside schools where charters share a campus with traditional public schools. “We will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district,” AROS said in a statement. Of course, charters are public schools, not “corporate.” And charters are the ones that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to share facilities. But UTLA and AROS don’t bother with those minor details. The rally mostly fizzled, so school kids were thankfully spared the sight and sound of angry protesters marching and chanting.

UTLA wasn’t finished. In what it thought would be a coup de grâce, the union released the results of a “study” it commissioned, which, among other things, asserted that the Los Angeles Unified School District “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.” The school district countered by pointing out that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. Undaunted, Caputo-Pearl was at it again in August. “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” he told the annual UTLA leadership conference in July. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

In late August, just weeks after Caputo-Pearl’s tantrum, UTLA hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, the union began spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches, and the media. The timing was particularly bad, as the just-released 2016 state standardized-test results showed that charters outperformed traditional public schools in both English and math. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter-school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent versus 26 percent. Despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” mantra, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared with 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely in areas of ethnicity, English-language learners, and disabled students.

The California Teachers Association jumped into the act on August 31 by unleashing “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign calling for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.” In a press release announcing the launch of the campaign, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “billionaires’ coordinated agenda”:

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools—weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While Numbers One and Two are outright lies, there is some truth to Number Three. CTA has become fat and happy. It is by far California’s biggest political spender. It drives the union elite crazy that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. The union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento, as well as in some local school board races.

Second only to its obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping about accountability. “It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins says. This is laughable. Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws. They must meet rigorous academic goals, engage in ethical business practices, and be proactive in their efforts to stay open. If a school doesn’t successfully educate its students according to its charter, parents will pull their kids out and send them elsewhere. After a specified period—usually five years—the school’s charter is revoked. A failing traditional public school, by contrast, rarely closes. Union-mandated “permanence” laws ensure that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent they may be, almost never lose their jobs.

The CTA and other unions can’t deal with the fact that non-unionized charters typically do a better job of educating poor and minority students than do traditional public schools. So they lie and create distractions in order to preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” grousing about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda,” and bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who can’t abide competition. But that’s just what children, their parents, and taxpayers deserve—less union meddling and more competition and choice.

American Workers Subsidizing Unions With Tax Dollars

In St. Charles, IL, a teacher is paid $141,105 not to teach. In Philadelphia, “ghost employees” who don’t do work for the state collect benefits from the state. In Kalamazoo, MI a former teacher is collecting a government pension of $85,903 a year even though he didn’t teach his last 14 years, but instead worked as a union employee.

Called “release time,” or “official time” at the federal level, it’s a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences.

According to Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, this racket has cost the federal government about $1 billion since 1998. Between 2008 and 2011, the fraud has increased from 2.9 million hours at a cost of $121 million to 3.4 million hours at a cost of $155 million.

School boards, which frequently consist of members bought and paid for by the teachers unions, are particularly guilty of this crime against the taxpayer. In CA, where the California Teachers Association wields great power, the situation is particularly egregious. Typically this scam is written into collective bargaining contracts and comes in different flavors. Sometimes the school district will pay for the cost of a sub if the teacher/union employee needs to do work for the union. In Los Angeles, page 6 of the teacher contract states that the United Teachers of Los Angeles “may request the release of designated employees from their regular duties with no loss of pay for the purpose of attending to UTLA matters, with the expense of the substitute or replacement to be borne by UTLA.”

Sounds fair, right? But it’s not.

The substitute invariably makes a lot less than the teacher/union employee and the taxpayer is sucking up the difference in pay. The teacher is also racking up pension time, (which is taxpayer-subsidized), while doing union work. And of course the students lose out by having frequent subs, who often are nothing more than placeholders.

In other districts, the union gets a completely free pass. Page 15 of Orange County’s Fountain Valley School District contract reads, “The Association (union) President or designee may utilize one (1) day per week for Association business. The District shall bear the cost of the substitutes.” So a classroom teacher of 15 years, who doubles as union president, makes an$89,731 yearly salary, or $485 a day. The taxpayer is also paying $100 a day for a sub which brings the total to $585 for one day of union business per week. Repeated over the 38 week teaching year, the taxpayer is on the hook for $22,230. And that amount does not include the thousands of dollars the employer (ultimately the taxpayer) has to pay for contributions to the teacher/union leader’s retirement fund, health benefits, unemployment insurance and workers compensation.

With over a thousand school districts in the state doing business like Los Angeles and Fountain Valley, we are talking about serious larceny.

Not everyone has rolled over and accepted this criminal arrangement. Jim Gibson, a former Marine Corps Captain who had sat on the Vista Unified School District board for 13 years, was outraged at the fraudulent set-up and decided to act. He initiated a lawsuit against the Vista Teachers Association in 2011, using a section of the California education code to make his case:

The governing board of a school district shall grant to any employee, upon request, a leave of absence without loss of compensation for the purpose of enabling the employee to serve as an elected officer of any local school district public employee organization, or any statewide or national public employee organization with which the local organization is affiliated.

… Following the school district’s payment of the employee for the leave of absence, the school district shall be reimbursed by the employee organization of which the employee is an elected officer for all compensation paid the employee on account of the leave.Reimbursement by the employee organization shall be made within 10 days after its receipt of the school district’s certification of payment of compensation to the employee. (Emphasis added.)

Gibson and the school district won the case.  All monies paid to do union business were ordered to be repaid by the union to the district. This ruling should have had ramifications statewide, but clearly it hasn’t. And things won’t change until enough citizens rise up and put an end to it.

What can be done?

One way to stop the criminal practice of taxpayer-supported “release time” would be to open collective bargaining negotiations to the public. That kind of sunlight would go a long way toward disinfecting wounds inflicted by unions and compliant school board members.

More than anything, citizens need to get involved. Examine the part of your local teacher union contract that is headed Organizational Security, Association Rights or (Name of local union) Rights. Ask your local school board president how the district deals with this policy. Go to school board meetings and ask questions about the contract wording and ask for verification that that district actually lives up to the contract. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors and your kid’s teacher. Talk to the media if necessary.

If we the people don’t care enough to stop it, union orchestrated taxpayer theft will go on unabated.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.