Measure EE tax hike for LAUSD fails

A proposed parcel tax ballot measure that would have created a new stream of local funding for the Los Angeles Unified School District went down to defeat at the hands of voters late Tuesday, even as its supporters acknowledged it had an “uphill battle” from the beginning.

With all precincts reporting following the day’s special election, 54.32% of the electorate —165,294 voters — said no to Measure EE, and 139,027 — 45.68% — said yes, a far cry from the required two-thirds majority of voters need to pass the controversial measure. As the only item on the ballot in most parts of the massive district, low turnout was anticipated.

A total of 304,321 voters cast ballots for or against Measure EE in Tuesday’s election.

The district placed this parcel tax on the ballot — an annual charge of 16 cents per square foot of developed property — to help pay for a labor contract agreement reached with striking teachers and ease its financial burden due to ballooning pension costs and declining student enrollment.

The campaign was quickly launched in the wake of a high-profile strike in January, as district leaders hoped to capitalize on public support for picketing teachers. …

Click here to read the full article from the LA Daily News

Desperate times and desperate measures for LAUSD

In politics, strange things happen in the week preceding an election. It is no different with Measure EE, the controversial property tax hike proposed by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although predicting the outcome of any election is dangerous it is clear that Measure EE is in trouble. In fact, its biggest problem might not even be the two-thirds vote threshold required for its approval. What is more disturbing for the district is the extent to which LAUSD has suffered multiple self-inflicted wounds in the conduct of its campaign.

Prior to this week, the district already committed several faults, starting with the screw-up on the language placed before the voters. That language doesn’t match what the LAUSD board approved in the official resolution. Not surprisingly, that problem resulted in a lawsuit.

More recently, the district distributed a mail piece advertising how seniors can apply for an exemption to the tax. No one believes for a second that the letter was anything other than a campaign piece because it was distributed to residents using the voter file rather than data from the assessor.

The bigger problem for the district is that the application for the exemption is itself very intimidating and seniors are justifiably suspicious of the district’s intentions. The application demands sensitive information such as a photocopy of the applicant’s driver’s license or passport. It also requires that the homeowner prove they are the primary resident by providing a copy of their Social Security check, insurance policy or utility bill and a copy of their current property tax bill. To top it all off, the application notes that the district may require that the application be submitted in person.

To read the entire column, please click here.

The Many Taxing Troubles of LAUSD

In a situation being watched throughout California, the Los Angeles Unified School District is aggressively pushing a heavy parcel tax on all property owners within its jurisdiction. For taxpayers, this raises a fundamental question: Why does the state need more money when California is already near the top in tax collections among all states?

LAUSD is faced with many problems. Impossible promises made to its unions, failure to economize spending, abject failure to implement long-needed reforms and declining enrollment are compounding the district’s woes. However, lack of revenue is not one of them.

The district’s response to its own mistakes makes the Keystone Kops look like paragons of competence, especially considering how the parcel tax proposal was placed on the ballot.

The LAUSD board approved the tax at its Feb. 28, 2019 board meeting by passing a resolution that incorporated the “full text” of the tax.  During that meeting, board members asked district staff and the district’s legal counsel if any changes to the resolution could be made after receiving board approval. The LAUSD board was correctly informed that any change to the resolution would require further board action — in a public meeting — and all changes would have to be made by March 13, 2019.  If changes were not approved, the tax proposal would be legally defective.

Despite this, on March 11, 2019, Superintendent Austin Beutner sent a letter to Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, Dean Logan, asking him to significantly alter the board-approved language. But as the board itself was first advised, moving forward with ballot language that was never approved by the LAUSD board violates both the Brown Act and the Elections Code.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Has the California business community had enough?

There is a particularly nasty YouTube video that made the rounds several years ago where a school punk was bullying another student who was overweight. The punk kept punching the other kid who was forced to retreat until his back was against a wall. After several punches, the overweight kid picked up the bully and slammed him to the ground so violently that the punk literally bounces off the pavement.

For decades, taxpayers in California have been the punching bag for tax-and-spend politicians and the special interests that consume tax dollars. Periodically, however, those receiving the blows stand up and punch back.  The recall of former Governor Gray Davis in reaction to his car tax increase is a good example.

For the most part, individual taxpayers and grassroots organizations are more vocal – at least publicly – against tax hikes than the business community. Certain business interests, especially large corporations, are more likely to have a “go along to get along” attitude which means that as long as a tax increase doesn’t hit their business directly (or can be passed along to consumers), they won’t put up much of a fight.  The rationale for this is that many of these business interests are vulnerable to arbitrary government action that threatens their interests and it would be unwise to anger the politicians who could, with a stroke of a pen, put them out of business.

But the frequency and intensity of recent tax proposals out of Sacramento and from various city halls is causing pushback from even the business community. In the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District jammed through a tax increase proposal that is an affront to taxpayers of all stripes. Measure EE, appearing on the ballot in a June 4th special election, would add hundreds of dollars to property tax bills and rents by imposing a tax of 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district. That’s $160 for every 1,000 square feet. This would hit homeowners, renters and businesses with a huge new property tax increase.

To read the entire column, please click here.

LAUSD’s Punishing Parcel Tax Proposal


LAUSD school busAmerica’s most dysfunctional school district has stepped in it again. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), apparently coming to the shocking realization that there was no way they could pay for the horrible deal they just cut with the unions, has hurriedly placed on the ballot for June a new property tax that leaves no Los Angeles taxpayer unscathed.

That grassroots taxpayer interests would be opposed to the new levy is no surprise. But several business organizations, usually more tolerant of higher government spending — particularly for education — have had enough. Groups as diverse as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) and the L.A. County Business Federation (BizFed) have all announced their opposition. None of these organizations is anti-education. In fact, all are pro-education as long as there is demonstrable improvement in the education product we are all paying for. On this score, LAUSD falls way short.

At the core of the broad-based opposition is the abject lack of long overdue reforms at LAUSD.

The list of reasons to oppose the tax is long.

First, taxpayers would be wasting millions of dollars on a special election.

The LAUSD Board voted unanimously to put the tax increase before the voters in a special election to be held on June 4, 2019. The cost of the special election is $12.5 million.

The tax would add hundreds of dollars to tax bills and rents and would do so in a convoluted manner. Rather than a flat tax on every parcel — which would be bad enough — the proposed tax increase would be 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district.

That’s $160 for every 1,000 square feet. Property owners (and tenants) should be sitting down when they do the math on this one.

Seniors are ostensibly exempt from the tax, but not from rent increases.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Modest Strike Settlement Nonetheless Puts LAUSD in Even Worse Financial Shape


Charter schoolOne of the grievances expressed by the union during their recent strike against Los Angeles Unified School District was that, according to them, charter schools are draining funds from public schools. This assertion, repeated uncritically by major news reports on the strike, does not stand up to reason.

Public schools in California receive government funding based on student attendance. Since one of the other primary grievances of the union was overcrowded classrooms, it would be reasonable to conclude that LAUSD schools are not underfunded, but overfunded. There should be plenty of money, but there’s not. LAUSD is teetering on insolvency, and the strike settlement agreement is going to make their financial challenges even worse.

Charter Schools Outperform LAUSD’s Unionized Schools

The reason LAUSD is running out of money has little or nothing to do with charter schools. It has to do with inefficient use of funds. A study conducted by the California Policy Center in 2015 calculated the per student cost in LAUSD’s traditional public high schools to be $15,372 per year. The same study evaluated 26 charter high schools and middle schools located within LAUSD’s geographic boundaries, and found their cost per student to be $10,649 per year.

At the same time as LAUSD spends far more than charters per student, they do a poorer job educating their students. The same 2015 study, “Analyzing the Cost and Performance of LAUSD Traditional High Schools and LAUSD Alliance Charter High Schools,” compared the educational outcomes at nine charter high schools to nine traditional public high schools in LAUSD. These 18 schools were selected based on their having nearly identical student demographics to LAUSD’s traditional public high schools – i.e., the same percentage of English learners, learning disabled students, and low income students. The charter schools clearly outperformed LAUSD in every important metric – SAT scores, graduation rates and college admissions.

There are two critical issues here, neither of which appear to have been discussed in the strike negotiations. One, why do charter schools manage to educate students for so much less than traditional public schools, and two, why do they manage to do it for so much less money?

The answer to the first may be hard for the union leadership and their supporters to accept: These charter schools are able to better educate students because they are not subject to union work rules. Incompetent teachers can be dismissed. If layoffs are necessary, the best teachers can be retained, instead of the most senior. What is more teachers do not acquire “tenure,” a job-for-life right negotiated by the teachers union despite its origins in the university with the purpose of protecting scientific inquiry, not protecting bad teachers in K-12 schools.

There are a host of reasons charter schools don’t cost as much as traditional public schools. Much of it has to do with teacher compensation. The average base pay in charter schools is less than in public schools, as is the average cost of benefits. But the “other pay,” typically taking the form of performance incentives, is higher in the charter schools. An interesting compilation, using data taken from Transparent California, estimated the bonus pay in the charter networks within LAUSD (Green Dot and Alliance) to average two to three times the average in LAUSD’s traditional public schools. This disparity, wherein compensation in charter schools is linked to the effectiveness of individual teachers, undoubtedly also helps explain why they achieve better educational outcomes.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking LAUSD

LAUSD’s cost of employee benefits increased from $1.54 billion in 2015-16 to $1.92 billion in 2016-17, an increase of 25 percent, when the total employee headcount only increased by six-tenths of one percent. The reason for the increase is simple, and immutable: LAUSD, like many public agencies throughout California, has fallen woefully behind in its funding of retirement benefits, and they have reached a point where they must dramatically increase payments in order to catch up.

Staggering Pension Debt: LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion. Just paying down that debt over twenty years should be costing LAUSD over $600 million per year, not including the normal contribution they have to pay each year as their active employees earn additional pension benefits. As it is, including the normal contribution, in 2018 LAUSD “only” paid $584 million to CalSTRS and CalPERS.

The financial sickness relating to pensions is a statewide problem. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD teachers, as of June 30, 2017, was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent. CalPERS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD support personnel, is only slightly better off financially than CalSTRS. It has already announced it will roughly double the required employer contributions between now and 2025. CalSTRS, if it wants to survive, will likely follow suit.

Retiree Healthcare Costs: If anything, the financial challenges surrounding LAUSD’s other primary retirement obligation, retiree health benefits, are even more daunting. LAUSD’s OPEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. Like many public agencies, LAUSD does not pre-fund their retiree health benefits. In 2018, retiree healthcare cost the district nearly $400 million. A 2016 study prepared for LAUSD estimated that cost to double in the next ten years, and to nearly quadruple within the next twenty years.

LAUSD does face declining enrollment, something they claim is exacerbated by diversion of students into charter schools. Total enrollment in 2013-14 was 621,796, and by 2017-18 it had declined somewhat to 591,411. As a percentage of total enrollment during that period, unaffiliated charter enrollment rose from 15 percent to 19 percent of all students. But LAUSD nonetheless contends with bursting classrooms. LAUSD’s traditional, unionized public schools are still collecting revenue based on attendance that stretches the capacity of their facilities. If they are still attempting to teach more students than their facilities can handle, they can’t blame charters for their financial problems.

There is, however, an indirect financial threat that charters represent to traditional unionized public schools that is very serious indeed. The problem is not that charter enrollment steals money from LAUSD’s classrooms, because the classrooms are full. More students might bring in more money, but they would also require more classrooms. The problem is the growth of charters shrinks the revenue base LAUSD needs to pay the costs for retirees.

Charter Schools Dilute LAUSD’s Revenue Base Necessary to Pay Retiree Benefits

As LAUSD’s traditional unionized public schools contend with burgeoning per-retiree costs, every student that they lose to charters represents less available revenue to feed the pension funds. Every student lost to charter schools decreases LAUSD’s ratio of active workers to retirees.

These compounding effects are similar to what faced the auto industry back in the 1980s – retirees collecting expensive benefits, supported by companies with fewer workers and lower revenues. The difference, of course, is that public schools, and public sector unions, do not contend with the irresistible reality of global markets. Instead their ultimate solution will be to call for higher taxes.

This prediction is borne out by the strike settlement, which called for more hiring of teachers and support personnel, retroactive raises, and nothing in the form of benefit reductions or higher employee contributions to their benefits through payroll withholding.

The other key victory for the union, an aggressive stance by the LAUSD Board against any new charter schools, is a rear guard action to preserve the revenue base necessary to pay retiree benefits. Stop the charters, or reform pensions and retiree healthcare formulas. It was one or the other. But all this war on charters does is buy time.

LAUSD Will Eventually Have to Adapt to Financial Reality

Sooner or later, financial reality will strike. LAUSD’s total expenses in 2016-17 were $7.6 billion. Benefits constituted $1.9 billion. Twenty-five percent of all spending. Ten years from now, those benefit costs are likely to double, as the pension fund payments rise to around $1.2 billion, annual OPEB contributions near the $1.0 billion level, and current benefits – which constituted around $900 million in spending in 2016-17 – rise with inflation. Can LAUSD afford to pay current and retiree benefits equal to 40 percent of all spending? Will higher taxes, to enable much higher per student reimbursements – make up the difference?

Financial reform to put LAUSD on a stable financial footing requires benefit reform. Teachers will have to pay, through payroll withholding, a higher percentage of the costs for their current health benefits, their retirement health benefits and their pensions. The alternative is for them to get more state funding for these benefits, or accept lower benefits. Increased state funding is on the way, but it is unlikely it will be sustainable.

There is another solution that bears discussion, which concerns the ratio of teachers to other employees. Based on their own data, LAUSD in 2016-17 had 26,556 classroom teachers, and 33,635 administrators and support personnel. Why is it necessary to have so many non-teachers? Why is it that between 2016-17, and the year before, the number of classroom teachers declined by 271, while the number of non-teaching employees grew by 639? In this regard, charter schools also offer a lesson. Just as they don’t spend precious funds on employee benefits that dwarf what private sector professionals typically expect, charters also don’t spend as much money on support personnel.

Not all charter schools succeed academically, but the ones that do offer examples that LAUSD and other traditional public school districts could emulate, and would emulate, if it weren’t for the intransigence of the teachers union. In all critical areas, from benefits reform to tenure, dismissal policies, and layoff criteria, the teachers union fights change. They have declared war on charters, and just won a major battle in LAUSD. But like the auto industry in Detroit back in the 1980s, unionized public schools need to adapt to changing times.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Policy Center.

Charter schools may face new era of opposition to funding


school busAfter a quarter-century of explosive increases in California, charter schools experienced all-time lows in growth the last two school years. And charters may also be facing an era of much harsher treatment from school boards allied with teachers unions who more than ever see charters as taking away resources that should go to conventional schools.

That was many education observers’ takeaway this week from the Los Angeles Unified School Board’s decision to approve a local moratorium on approvals of new charters until their impact on the state’s largest district is freshly assessed. District leaders had agreed to pass the resolution as part of their deal with United Teachers Los Angeles to end a strike that shut LAUSD schools for six days earlier last month.

Charters are privately operated public schools that hope to attract students from regular schools with their freedom to follow different teaching regimens. Some also offer specialized language or academic programs. Most are non-union.

From 1992 to 2016, charter schools went from zero students to more than 600,000 – about 10 percent of total K-12 students in California. The last two years, however, there was less than 2 percent growth in the number of total charters for the first time.

Charters initially faced brisk opposition from the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, which had heavy influence in many districts thanks to the board members that union local chapters helped elect.

But in 2000, California voters approved Proposition 39 related to school financing. One provision requires that “school districts make available to all charter schools operating in their school district … facilities that will sufficiently accommodate all of the charter’s in-district students, and that facilities be ‘reasonably equivalent’ to other classrooms, buildings, or facilities in the district,” according to the state Department of Education page outlining how school districts should comply with the state law.

CalSTRS bailout spurs scrum for limited resources

Proposition 39 gave charters a potent tool to fight attempts to block them, leading to something of a cease-fire from unions. But the passage in 2014 of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System bailout not only isn’t having the effect of stabilizing school finances that some hoped, it’s created a more intense battle for district resources than ever.

Under the bailout, total contributions to CalSTRS will nearly double from 2013-14 to 2020-21 as hikes are phased in. But districts are required to contribute 70 percent of the new money – or close to $4 billion when the phase-in ends. Even with two more contribution hikes awaiting in 2019-20 and 2020-21, many districts across the state are already struggling to make their budgets balance.

That list starts with L.A. Unified, whose board was warned by the Los Angeles County Office of Education that the district couldn’t afford the two retroactive 3 percent raises it gave teachers to end the strike. The county office raised the possibility that the district’s finances could be so broken by 2020-21 that it could be subject to an outside takeover based on a state law requiring districts maintain minimum reserves.

L.A. Unified leaders hope to get the state Legislature to provide more funding for next school year. But the L.A. teachers union also wants the district to stop providing so much funding to the district’s 225 charters, which teach 112,000 of the district’s 486,000 students.

The wild card in a new cold war between teachers unions and charters is Gov. Gavin Newsom. While he has often praised charter schools as an important part of public education, he said while campaigning last year that he would sign legislation “requiring charter schools to be more transparent with their finances and operations and to adhere to stricter conflict of interest rules on their governing boards,” according to the EdSource website.

Charter school critics see this as an obvious response to the messy finances and scandals seen in some charters. Charter advocates see it as an ominous first step toward rolling back the charter movement. They backed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2018 governor’s race.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Will Anything Good Come Out of the LAUSD Strike? Probably Not


LAUSD school busAs the teachers strike in Los Angeles entered its second week, it appeared the strike would soon be over. On January 22, online reports declared an agreement has been “hammered out,” with union members ratifying the deal late last night.

Union representatives have consistently stated that more pay is not the only reason they’re striking. That’s believable. The unions also want to unionize charter schools, they want smaller class sizes, and they want more hiring – for example, a full-time nurse at every elementary school. All of this, however, costs money.

Noriko Nakada, a LAUSD public school teacher, wrote a column in the December 18th edition of the UTLA “United Teacher” newspaper, entitled “People don’t strike for 6%; we strike for justice.” Considering each of those two phrases, one at a time, yields insights into what’s really going on in LAUSD, and by extension, throughout the unionized public schools of California. Briefly stated, according to the teachers union, “justice,” inside and outside the classroom, is to implement a Leftist political agenda with no regard to the sentiments of teachers or parents.

To start with, however, Nakada’s assertion that “people don’t strike for 6 percent” is false, because getting a 6 percent raise was one of the goals of the strike, and it looks like they’re going to get that raise. So how much will that cost? If there are 30,000 teachers on strike, and their average salary is $75,000 per year, then a 6 percent raise is going to cost at least $135 million per year. At least, because whenever salaries are increased, the cost for other benefits such as pensions increase proportionately.

So this concession of $135 million (or more) per year would have paid for the district to hire roughly 1,500 more teachers and support personnel, which when the details of the settlement are known, is likely to be roughly equivalent to how many new hires will be made. Where the money will come from? Who knows.

The more revealing phrase in Nakada’s article title is “we strike for justice.” What are examples of this “justice”? Would it include “restorative justice,” that well intentioned, benevolent sounding practice which in reality forbids schools from expelling students of any given ethnicity at a greater rate than expulsions occur within the entire student population?

Maybe “justice” is referring to “social justice,” which would include “protecting Dreamers,” “affordable healthcare,” “fair tax structures,” increasing the minimum wage, opposing the “privatization of public education,” immigrant rights, “green” space, bilingual education, reducing “inequality,” creating “racial justice” (such as through preferential scholarships for Asian, Latino, African, and LGBTQ students), and much, much more.

It’s unlikely that UTLA leadership would disavow these elements of their “justice” agenda. But is it nonpartisan? Is it focused on the skills that will truly enable a graduate to be successful – English literacy, math competency, and an awareness of history and civics that instills the American values of individual responsibility and hard work? Or is it a hard Left political agenda?

To answer that question, maybe the national political spending of the two largest teachers unions in America, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) might be instructive. The table below, lifted from the book “Standing Up to Goliath,” written by the courageous Rebecca Friedrichs, reveals the political bias of these unions.

As can be seen, using 2016 data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics, over 99 percent of direct political contributions by the NEA and AFT in that year were directed either to Left-leaning political action committees or to Democratic candidates and the Democratic party. Ninety-nine percent.

Can this degree of partisanship possibly be in synch with the sentiments of teachers who belong to these unions? Not according to the NEA’s own survey data on their members. As also reported by Friedrichs in “Standing Up to Goliath,” the most recent study available on this was a 2006 survey of American public school teachers, where they were classified as either “liberal,” “lean liberal,” “conservative,” or “lean conservative.” As shown, at the time, 55 percent of public school teachers in the U.S. were either “conservative” or “lean conservative.” Has this changed over the intervening decade? Would the findings be different in California compared to the rest of the nation? Of course the answer to both questions is yes, but how much different?

Two things can be reasonably inferred from these charts. (1) The political ideology of public school teachers in America is split roughly evenly between liberals and conservatives, and (2) the national political spending of the major teachers unions is almost 100 percent allocated to liberal causes and Democratic candidates. From their literature and their rhetoric, it is almost certainly accurate to state that the political agenda and political spending of the United Teachers of Los Angeles is in lockstep with that of these national teachers unions. And it is extremely unlikely that literally 100 percent of the UTLA teachers – and, more importantly, the parents of LAUSD students – adhere to an ideology that is 100 percent supportive of liberal causes and Democratic candidates.

The question of whether or not unions should even exist in the public sector is one worth asking. Already, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Janus vs. AFSCME case has recognized that all public sector union activity is inherently political. If so, shall the California affiliate of the NEA, the California Teachers Association, continue to collect and spend an estimated $325 million per year? Shall the California affiliate of the AFT, the California Federation of Teachers, continue to collect and spend an estimated $100 million per year?

Shall the UTLA continue to use their formidable power to deny school choice in spite of forcing students to attend mediocre and failing schools, to unionize charter schools despite many of them achieving spectacular results, to reject the common sense, bipartisan reforms proposed in the Vergaracase, and to inculcate students with Leftist political ideology, at the same time as their financial demands leave the district teetering on the brink of insolvency?

By all recent indications, yes.

L.A. Teachers Strike To Preserve Their Ruinous Monopoly


Teachers unionLast week, 31,000 Los Angeles Unified School District teachers represented by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) union went on strike for the first time in 30 years.

Substitute teachers and administrators make up a skeleton crew that is keeping schools open, and about one-third of the 640,000 district students are attending class.

The strike is exacting a tremendous toll on parents, many of whom are poor and who must decide whether to take time off of work to care for their children or send their children to grossly understaffed schools.

The issues underlying the strike highlight the challenges facing public school administration, teacher unions and school funding, and shows what must change if U.S. public schools are to increase student achievement.

The strike is about teacher pay, classroom size and increasing the number of school support staff, including counselors, librarians and nurses. But at a deeper level, the strike is really about suppressing the state’s charter schools, which are the major competition facing traditional schools.

Charter schools, which grew out of interest in having public alternatives to traditional schools, began in 1992 and now enroll over 600,000 students within California. Charters have become increasingly popular, and their number has doubled over the last decade. …

Click here to read the full article from The Hill

Are LAUSD Teachers Underpaid, or Does it Cost Too Much to Live in California?


Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

In California, public sector unions pretty much run the state government. Government unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. There is no special interest in California both willing and able to mount a sustained challenge to public sector union power. They simply have too much money, too many people on their payroll, too many politicians they can make or break, and too much support from a biased and naive media.

The teachers strike in Los Angeles Unified School District cannot be fully appreciated outside of this overall context: Public sector unions are the most powerful political actor in California, at the state level, in the counties and cities, and on most school boards, certainly including the Los Angeles Unified School District. With all this control and influence, have these unions created the conditions that feed their current grievances?

The grievances leading the United Teachers of Los Angeles to strike center around salary, class sizes, and charter schools. But when the cost of benefits are taken into account, it is hard to argue that LAUSD teachers are underpaid.

According to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the median salary of a LAUSD teacher is $75,000, but that’s just base pay. A statement by LAUSDin response to a 2014 report on LAUSD salaries challenged the $75,000 figure, claiming it was only around $70,000. They then acknowledged, however, that the district paid $16,432 for each employee’s healthcare in 2013-14, and paid 13.92 percent of each teachers salary to cover pension contributions, workers comp, and Medicare. That came up to $96,176 per year.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking Education Budgets

This average total pay of nearly $100K per year back in 2013-14 is certainly higher today – even if salaries were not raised, payments for retirement benefits have grown. For their 35,000 employees, LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion, and their OBEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for most LAUSD employees, receives funds directly from the state that, in a complete accounting, need to also count towards their total compensation. And CalSTRS, as of June 30, 2017 (the next update, through 6/30/2018, will be available May 2019), was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent!

The reason to belabor these unfunded retirement benefits is to make it very clear: LAUSD paying an amount equivalent to 13.92 percent of each employees salary into the pension funds isn’t enough. What LAUSD teachers have been promised in terms of retirement pensions and health insurance benefits requires pre-funding far in excess of 13.92 percent. To accurately estimate how much they really make, you have to add the true amount necessary to pay for these pensions and OPEB. This real total compensation average is well over $100K per year.

To put LAUSD teacher compensation in even more accurate context, consider how many days per year they actually work. This isn’t to dispute or disparage the long hours many (but not all) teachers put in. A conscientious teacher’s work day doesn’t begin when the students arrive in the classroom, or end when they leave. They prepare lesson plans and grade homework, and many stay after regular school hours to assist individual students or coordinate extracurricular activities. But teachers working for LAUSD only work 182 days per year. The average private sector professional, who also tends to put in long hours, assuming four weeks of either vacation or holidays, works 240 days per year – 32 percent more. The value of all this time off is incalculable, but simply normalizing pay for a 182 day year to a 240 day year yields an average annual pay of not $100K, but $132K. Taking into account the true cost of pensions and retirement healthcare benefits, much more than $132K.

This is what the LAUSD teachers union considers inadequate. If that figure appears concocted, just become an independent contractor. Suddenly the value of employer paid benefits becomes real, because you have to pay for them yourself.

California’s Ridiculously High Cost-of-Living

If a base salary of over $70,000 per year, plus benefits (far more time off each year, pensions far better than Social Security, and excellent health insurance) worth nearly as much, isn’t enough for someone to financially survive in Los Angeles, maybe the union should examine the role it played, along with other public sector unions, in raising the cost-of-living in California.

Where was the California Teachers Association when restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375 were passed, making housing unaffordable by restricting supply? What was the California Teachers Association stance on health coverage for undocumented immigrants, or sanctuary state laws? What did they expect, if laws were passed to make California a magnet for the world’s poor? Don’t they see the connection between 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in California, and a housing shortage, or crowded classrooms? Don’t they see the connection between this migration of largely destitute immigrants who don’t speak English, and the burgeoning costs to LAUSD to provide special instruction and care to these students?

From a moral standpoint, how, exactly, does it make the world a better place, when for every high-needs immigrant student entering LAUSD schools, there are ten thousand high-needs children left behind in the countries they came from, as well as less resources for high-needs children whose parents have lived in California for generations?

When you make it nearly impossible to build anything in California, from housing to energy and water infrastructure, and at the same time invite the world to move in, you create an unaffordable state. When California’s state legislature passed laws creating this situation, what was the position of California Teachers Association? Need we ask?

The Union War Against Education Reform

Charter schools, another primary grievance of the UTLA, is one of the few areas where politicians in California’s state legislature – nearly all of them Democrats by now – occasionally stand up to the teachers unions. But why are charter schools so popular? Could it be that the union controlled traditional public schools are failing students, making charter schools a popular option for parents who want their children to have a better chance at a good education?

Maybe if traditional public schools weren’t held back by union work rules, they would deliver better educational results. The disappointing result in the 2014 Vergara vs. California case provides an example. The plaintiffs sued to modify three work rules, (1) a longer period before granting tenure, (2) changing layoff criteria from seniority to merit, and (3) streamlined dismissal policies for incompetent teachers. These plaintiffs argued the existing work rules had a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, and proved it – view the closing arguments by the plaintiff’s attorney in this case to see for yourself. But California’s State Supreme Court did not agree, and California’s public schools continue to suffer as a result.

But instead of embracing reforms such as proposed in the Vergara case, which might reduce the demand by parents for charter schools, the teachers union is trying to unionize charter schools. And instead of agreeing to benefits reform – such as contributing more to the costs for their health insurance and retirement pensions – the teachers union has gone on strike.

Financial reality will eventually compel financial reform at LAUSD. But no amount of money will improve the quality of LAUSD’s K-12 education, if union work rules aren’t changed. The saddest thing in this whole imbroglio is the fate of the excellent teacher, who works hard and successfully instructs and inspires their students. Those teachers are not overpaid at all. But the system does not nurture such excellence. How on earth did it come to this, that unions would take over public education, along with virtually every other state and local government agency in California?