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Analysis: Another year, another wide-ranging plan for California public education by United Teachers Los Angeles

Mike Antonucci | September 3, 2019

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report

It was an eventful year for the Los Angeles Unified School District, with the run-up and launch of the teacher strike, the District 5 school board election and the Measure EE parcel tax initiative. Behind them all was United Teachers Los Angeles and its president, Alex Caputo-Pearl. He and his union have more plans for you and your wallet this school year.

Back in July 2016, Caputo-Pearl introduced his blueprint at the union’s leadership conference, famously announcing his plan to “create a state crisis in early 2018.” UTLA did not achieve all its goals, but it did get the strike it wanted, along with favorable media coverage.

Three years later, Caputo-Pearl was back with another speech to the leadership conference and another wide-ranging plan for California public education.

This one is called the New Deal for Public Schools, but it includes all the union’s old demands: lower class sizes, higher pay, increased funding and limits on charter schools.

“Our New Deal for Public Schools draws from the New Deal in the 1930s that reconstructed the economy,” Caputo-Pearl said. “It draws from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. It is a call to transform public education.”

A blueprint is one thing, but what will construction entail? Caputo-Pearl spelled it out:

January 2020 contract reopeners. UTLA can open negotiations on salary and two other issues. Union leaders have already made it clear that one of those issues will be for more psychologists and psychiatric social workers. Some members were frustrated that the settlement of the January strike did not adequately address special education staffing.

School board election. Four seats — in Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 — will be contested in 2020. The primaries will be held in March, with a general election, if necessary, in November. UTLA will seek a definitive majority on the board. With that in mind, the union will step up its efforts to increase member contributions to its political action committee.

Health insurance bargaining. The agreement on health benefits was sealed a year before the strike, but it expires in December 2020. Negotiations on a successor agreement can begin as early as March.

Split-roll property tax. It came as a surprise to most observers that the Schools and Communities First campaign committee, formed to place an initiative on the ballot that would undo property tax limits for commercial businesses, decided to drop the measure that had already qualified for the November 2020 ballot in favor of filing a new, improved version. Initial polling was not great, and the campaign sought to reduce the measure’s effect on small businesses. However, it does mean starting the ballot initiative process from scratch, beginning with signature-gathering.

California unions have a long history of abandoning similar measures at great cost. In 2004, the California Teachers Association and National Education Association spent $3.4 million to gather signatures for a split-roll property tax ballot initiative, only to give up before the deadline.

In 2005, the unions spent another $2.1 million for the same purpose, and ended up with the same result.

This time, money seems to be no object, as the campaign recently received $1 million from an ally in the fight against corporate privatizers… the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which is powered by Facebook money.

Caputo-Pearl provided one more hint of what may be in store for LA Unified. He repeated it nearly a dozen times in his speech to the UTLA leadership conference.

“Strikes work.”

Disclosure: The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provides financial support to LA School Report.

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