Board asks for analysis of UTLA report that says independent charters cost LAUSD millions
Mike Szymanski | May 10, 2016
LA Unified board members asked Tuesday for an in-depth analysis of a union-funded report stating that the district loses more than half a billion dollars because of independent charter schools.
A response from the California Charter Schools Association, delivered after an hours-long recess while the school board met in closed session to address litigation against the district, called the union’s “scapegoating of charters” an “incessant tirade” and noted that the district faces far bigger financial threats than charters.
The study on the fiscal impact of charter schools was commissioned by United Teachers Los Angeles because of the enormous cost issues facing the district, said UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, who gave school board members the report in folders in the union red color.
“This report shows, for the first time, the fiscal costs that are creating a crisis,” said Caputo-Pearl. “Unless we drastically change direction, this crippling financial burden threatens the success of both district and charter schools.”
The report includes direct and indirect costs on the district, including the staff and office space at the Beaudry district headquarters for the charter schools division. It also includes expenses on services to disabled students, costs related to enrollment and the loss of tax money.
Susan Zoller, a former teacher and administrator who compiled the report for MGT of America, a Florida-based consulting company, stressed when she addressed the board: “We are not reviewing or providing a critique on independent charters or on your oversight practices. We are identifying the financial impact.”
The study estimates that the costs to the district of money intended for traditional schools totals about $18 million annually and is growing every year as more independent charters are approved in the district.
LA Unified has more charter students than any other district in the country, with 101,000 students in 221 schools, making up 16 percent of the district enrollment. Over the last decade, the number of charter schools has more than tripled.
“We are bleeding money and if we cut staff we don’t have health benefits because we won’t have the active employees to pay into it. You cannot support programs when you are losing enrollment,” said board member Richard Vladovic.
“We need to offer programs so that they don’t leave the district. It’s not we against they, because it’s parents making choices,” Vladovic added. “They’re all our kids.”
Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy of the California Charter Schools Association, told the board members, “What’s especially unfortunate about this whole effort is that it feeds into the ‘us vs. them’ debate that so many of us are trying to move beyond, as Dr. Vladovic wisely noted earlier today. Why is UTLA essentially trying to pit one school against another, one mother against another, making the case for the district to essentially take dollars away from one school and give them to another?”
Angel added, “UTLA’s goal of blaming charters for the district’s complex financial challenges is especially irresponsible when you look at the big picture. The district’s own experts and its independent financial advisory panel have already identified numerous issues that are much bigger than charters, some of which you’ve discussed today. And, I know those discussions will continue, even as UTLA continues to draw your attention away from the deep and complex issues that have nothing to do with charters.
“The decisions this board faces about finances and costs are real, but the guiding principle has to be educational quality,” Angel said. “That piece—quality of instruction, student academic performance—is always noticeably absent from UTLA’s incessant tirade against charters.”
Board member Monica Ratliff asked to have district staff analyze the report and give them details at an upcoming special budget session.
Tax money goes directly to the independent charter schools and follows the students, so if enrollment declines, so does the funding. That results in a decline of more than 7 percent of the district’s core budget per year. The district could lose about $4,957 per student, according to the study.
The charter school division spends $2.9 million more than the available funding on monitoring and helping independent charters, and routine audits can cost an average of $70,000, the report says. It states that there are 46 staff members at LA Unified in the charter schools division.
Echoing a request from the board for a deeper analysis of the report, board member Monica Garcia said, “We need to celebrate what employees have done to increase graduation. Employees gave up salaries to save the district. We need a comprehensive review.”