Commentary: We need a resolution — our kids need us to build bridges, not walls, in L.A.
Allison Bajracharya | January 10, 2019
If LAUSD teachers go out on strike, thousands of Los Angeles students will lose days or weeks (or more) of learning time, and local public schools will lose millions of dollars in funding. But that’s not all; a strike will also produce immense anxiety among teachers worried about the fate of students they’re committed to serving, and among parents forced to choose between crossing picket lines or staying home from work in order to take care of their kids.
The bottom line is, if a strike happens, students, teachers, parents and communities will all suffer. There will be no winners.
As a former public school teacher and current district parent, I understand the frustration of teachers in Los Angeles. Class sizes are too large, support staff are too few, and parents are asked to raise dollars for arts, music and basic supplies like crayons and whiteboard markers.
That said, the district, the school board and the teachers union need to set aside their own political objectives and find common ground that puts kids first.
Right now, we have district leaders who have made misleading statements in order to bolster their position. We have union leaders who ignore fiscal realities and deceive their members in order to maximize their negotiating leverage. And, we have a school board whose members have kicked the can down the road on difficult budget decisions for decades.
It’s time for all of us to tell them all of them to knock it off. They’re all to blame. They’re all hurting our kids. As parents, we cannot allow our children to be collateral damage in a dispute over adult special interests.
First, the district: when a neutral fact-finding panel issued its report in December, Superintendent Austin Beutner falsely claimed that the union “agreed” with the conclusion that the district’s salary offer was appropriate. UTLA did no such thing, and Beutner’s false statement only added more toxicity to an already toxic debate.
But the union has also done its share to provoke a catastrophic strike. It has refused to concede the very clear fact that their demands would bankrupt the district, and it has consistently misled its members about the facts. When one side refuses to accept reality, that too is a recipe for disaster.
Meanwhile, the school board fails to articulate a vision for our kids and show teachers they are valued, and it hasn’t taken the steps needed to improve our schools.
The union’s demands are unaffordable, as the third-party fact-finder recently reported, but again, the district and the school board have done their share to contribute to the problem. In 2015, an independent financial review panel wrote that “if the District desires to continue as a going concern beyond FY 2019-20, capable of improving the lives of students and their families, then a combination of difficult, substantial and immediate decisions will be required. Failure to do so could lead to the insolvency of the LAUSD, and the loss of local governance authority that comes from state takeover.”
In the three years since the report was released, virtually none of the recommendations have been acted on. Most prominent was the recommendation to create a voluntary early retirement program for senior staff, which would have saved $400 million a year, enough to fund many of the items currently in dispute between the district and UTLA.
In the meantime, the looming strike has served as a huge distraction from why we all care about public education: the opportunity to positively impact kids. Right now, only 12 percent of LAUSD grads will go on to graduate from college. We have to do better for our kids. There are no simple answers, but arguments between adults and a loss of instructional time certainly will not help.
This has to stop.
Kids have to come first. We have to put their lives … their opportunities … their futures … and their well-being ahead of everything else.
Get in a room. Prioritize kids first, show teachers they are valued, go to Sacramento together to advocate for more funding and get it done. There is too much at stake not to.
Allison Bajracharya began her career as a high school teacher and has spent the past 18 years working in public education. She is a graduate of Middlebury College and has a master’s degree from USC in public policy. Allison lives in Los Feliz with her husband and their two children, who both attend their neighborhood public school. She is a candidate for the LAUSD Board District 5 election on March 5.