Six days after going on strike in January, the union that represents thousands of teachers reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
The three-year contract gave educators a 6 percent raise and called for the hiring of 300 more nurses and 77 additional counselors and 78 librarians at middle and high schools. It would also slightly reduce the number of students per classroom.
While the accord meant that more than 640,000 students were able to return to the classroom, another problem remained; how to pay for these commitments.
A month later, the LAUSD Board thought it found the answer when it decided to place a parcel tax on the June 4 special election ballot.
Next week, those in the LAUSD jurisdiction will decide on Measure EE, the “Quality Teacher, Class Size Reduction, and Local School Safety Measure” that — if approved — is projected to raise $500 million a year for the district schools. Charter schools would get about 20 percent of that.
Measure EE would levy an additional 16-cent per square foot tax of livable space. An analysis by the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — who, over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, was out in force with teacher union members and other groups knocking on doors seeking support for the proposal — estimates that the median owner of a 1,450 feet home would face a $235 tax.
Senior citizen home owners (age 65+) and certain low-income residents with disabilities are eligible for a full exemption from the cost of the measure.
During a conversation with Sharie Tarver Behring, the CSUN College of Education interim dean, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said that “everybody understands we need more dollars to do the work that we’re supposed to do and it’s not there.”
He explained that about 90 cents of school funding comes from Sacramento and the other 10 cents from the federal government.
But that only amounts to $16,000 per students per year. The latest proposal from the governor’s office would raise that by about $150.
“That’s good, but it’s nickels and dimes,” Beutner said in the conversation at CSUN. “It’s time for us to see if we can find our own solution to the problem.”
He said Measure EE would add another $700-$800 per pupil.
“It’s an investment we need to make,” Beutner noted, adding that “local money stays in locals schools.”
He also said since coming into the district, they have cut almost $100 million in administrative costs and another $50 million annually in healthcare. The LAUSD has a $7.5 billion annual budget.
Despite these cuts, A Reason Foundation analysis in November found that pension and healthcare costs will amount to more than half of the District’s budget by 2031. Already, liabilities exceed LAUSD assets by more than $5.1 million and the district faces a $422 million deficit, the study revealed.
Measure EE would need a two-thirds majority approval by voters to pass, and the money would start flowing starting in January 2020 and would continue for the next 12 years.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl says “if we win on June 4, it will be the biggest victory of the strike.”
“Measure EE, which we brought onto the ballot through our strike, is, for the first time in my almost-30-year career in education, a move towards more absolute money in our classrooms and schools — smashing through the status quo, not just maintaining it.”
Meanwhile, Compton Avenue Elementary School teacher Gwendolyn Baker says in a video posted on the UTLA Twitter account that “I’m really asking you to vote yes on Measure EE because at my school we only see a nurse once a week and a librarian every other week. Children of elementary age need a nurse every day. Imagine if someone gets sick on Friday or Thursday and the nurse only comes on Tuesday, what happens? Please vote yes June 4th to help elementary school children.”
No on Measure EE
Despite the widespread support for Measure EE, not everyone is for it.
According to Caputo-Pearl, more than 70 percent of Measure EE funding would come from corporations, particularly building owners, who would pay about $250,000 annually.
This has motivated the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), which has come out against it.
BOMA Greater Los Angeles says that LAUSD has not “addressed its own inefficiencies prior to placing this tax on the ballot. It simultaneously made financial commitments beyond its means to resolve the teachers strike. Asking property owners to carry the burden of LAUSD’s decision is unfair.”
The association also notes that this property tax comes after last November’s stormwater parcel tax (Measure W), and that there are other similar measures on upcoming ballots (including one to fund the Fire Department and another to fund libraries).
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), which opposes tax increases, also filed a lawsuit trying to block it, contending Beutner overstepped his authority by changing the ballot language after the LAUSD Board had already voted to send it to the ballot. There will be a hearing on the lawsuit on June 6, two days after the election, to determine whether the election results should be certified.
John Coupal, head of HJTA, says the LAUSD faces “impossible promises made to its unions, failure to economize spending, abject failure to implement long-needed reforms and declining enrollment.”
Tracy Hernandez, BizFed Founding CEO, has also come out against the measure. “Measure EE has no accountability and oversight on how much of the $500 million raised each year will be spent on overhead, salaries, pension debts, and outside consultants,” Hernandez said.
“This measure doesn’t require any fundamental reform that will fix the school district. LAUSD should fix longstanding problems, reform its broken system and better control its run-away finances.”
Even some teachers are quoted in the “Vote No on EE” website.
“We walked miserably in the rain and lost six days of pay because we followed a union leader who insisted there was a large reserve that the district was hiding. Well apparently there wasn’t. Caputo-Pearl’s main goal all along was to increase property taxes and used us to influence public opinion... Now we have this measure being pushed through... I didn’t go on strike to be blindsided by having my property taxed...pretty dam sneaky,” said LAUSD teacher Dolly Allen Buchanan.