Organizing and actions work

We’ve made progress on healthcare, and now we escalate our campaign even more

Above, Canyon Elementary staff with UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl on a recent school visit.

A few weeks ago, as I was walking out from a lunch meeting with members at Van Deene Elementary in the Harbor Area, I heard a familiar voice call my name. I gave Veronique Gathers, a plant manager and member of the Teamsters union at Van Deene, a hug. Her son, Marquise Williams, was one of the most remarkable social justice student leaders I have ever worked with, back in the early 2000s — he was at Dorsey High School in South LA while I was teaching at rival Crenshaw down the street. We talked about Marquise, and family, and kids, and then Veronique said, “I’m so glad all the unions are working together on our healthcare. I couldn’t be prouder of that. Let’s fight and win.”


A year ago this month, LAUSD sent me a letter stating that the district wanted to open healthcare bargaining a year ahead of time. There were several pages attached, arguing for draconian cuts to our healthcare. I replied that there is a year left in the agreement and we’ll bargain at the right time — not a year in advance.


Over that year, the LA Times, which Eli Broad funds, continued to regularly publish attacks on public sector employees’ healthcare, often straight from a group called Cal Matters, which Broad also funds.
Meanwhile, Nick Melvoin ran an unprecedented $13 million campaign for School Board, based largely on attacking our healthcare.


All of this culminated with LAUSD’s pronouncement at the bargaining table this past September that the district would be deeply cutting our healthcare.


A month later, the district came back to the table and offered a three-year healthcare agreement with no increased costs for members. This is very significant progress, and it is a direct result of our organizing and escalation: our September 26 Big Red Tuesday, October 11 Picket for Power, more than 800 chapter chairs in place across the city (more than we’ve ever had), hundreds of Contract Action Teams in place at schools, our strong collaborative work with the seven other employee unions, and our unprecedented building of the Reclaim Our Schools LA coalition, including more than 15 parent, community, and civil rights organizations. 
Organizing and escalating actions work. We saw it in the 2014-15 contract campaign and the 10% salary increase. We see it now with healthcare. We see it now with National Board Certified teachers — the district just recently pulled completely off the table its wrong-headed proposal to cut NBCT pay and force them to move schools. Your work at school sites is the key to our organizing and escalation.


We must keep up that organizing and keep pushing on healthcare. We must ensure that any multi-year healthcare agreement does not deplete the healthcare reserve. If it does, that will be used by the district to justify an attack on healthcare in future years.

 

How dare the district

Above, our November 7 news conference with parents and educators outside LAUSD Board headquarters amplified our call for Ref Rodriguez to resign and targeted the charter lobby’s attempt to roll back accountability measures. 

How dare the district spend two years threatening our healthcare! How dare LAUSD threaten to punish educators for LAUSD’s financial dilemmas when the district has done little over the past few years to address California being 46th out of 50 states in per-pupil funding. How dare the district threaten the funding for our healthcare when the corporate charter majority on the LAUSD School Board is giving money away every time a new charter school is authorized or a failing charter school renewed. 

How dare the district stonewall us on salary and offer just a 2% one-time bonus.

How dare the district refuse to move on our proposals on the class size and staffing our students deserve.
In the face of Celerity, PUC, and Ref Rodriguez’s high-profile corruption, how dare the district refuse to negotiate basic charter school regulation that is needed to save the civic institution of public education.

 

How dare LAUSD disrespect its educators in our classrooms and schools, the people who spend every day working with our youth. We see this disrespect through:

  • LAUSD’s flat-out rejection of our proposal to increase administrator accountability in providing support for teachers in addressing student discipline and school climate issues. The district also rejected our proposal to form joint intervention teams to provide enhanced support to schools dealing with severe student discipline issues, and our proposal to have Local School Leadership and Shared Decision-Making councils produce, and monitor implementation of, school-site discipline and climate plans.
     
  • LAUSD’s top-down directives on standardized testing. The district has not responded to our bargaining proposals giving educators more discretion over what tests are administered in our classrooms.
     
  • LAUSD’s top-down mandates without adequate support and time given, such as elementary report cards and benchmarks.
     
  • A flat-out rejection of our proposal to allow Local School Leadership and Shared Decision-Making councils have more purview over how LCFF funds are spent at school sites. It shouldn’t just be up to the principal.

This is unacceptable. 

 

From starving and privatized to thriving and sustainable

The public wants a civic institution of education that is high-quality, sustainable over the long-term, and serves all students. Our students, communities, and city need this. 
We as educators need this — with an emphasis on the sustainability question — for our long-term job security, healthcare, and the opportunity to work as proud educators within a thriving school system.


The state of California and LAUSD have chosen starvation and privatization for our schools over appropriately funding them. The state has done this by allowing per-pupil funding to be 46th out of 50 states. LAUSD and its corporate charter majority have done this through its history of approving charters and declining to fight for the survival of the district.


We have to fight for victories for our schools right now, while we also, crucially, fight right now for pathways to a sustainable future — funding-wise, charter regulation-wise, and more. If we don’t, we will annually be facing negotiations centered on cuts to student services, cuts to healthcare, cuts to jobs. 

To do this, we must address seven elements in this contract campaign and the broader Schools LA Students Deserve campaign to build a thriving, sustainable, truly public education system in Los Angeles.

 

  1. We must recruit and retain great educators. Increased salary, healthcare, and great learning and working conditions are crucial to this, as we face an oncoming national teacher shortage. Our current bargaining proposals on salary, class size, staffing, and professional respect regarding student discipline, site decision-making, testing, and mandates are key.
     
  2. We must shift LAUSD’s budget priorities toward the above. It is not okay for LAUSD to have much larger unrestricted reserves (percentage-wise) than most large school districts in the state. It is not okay for LAUSD to consistently overproject spending in its books and supplies fund, and use the rest as an unaccountable slush fund.
     
  3. We must win 20 x 20, because shifting LAUSD’s budget priorities will not be enough to build a thriving, sustainable, public school system, in the current context of California being in 46th place among the states. This is our campaign for California to increase school funding to $20,000 per student by 2020. This is not pie-in-the-sky — other states already do it. This is not unachievable — we are one of the biggest unions in the state, with connections to thousands of parents, and with enormous potential power.

    The LAUSD School Board and other elected officials have already signed on to the idea of 20 x 20. Now, we need to spur them into action. In California, the sixth-largest economy in the world and the birthplace of Hollywood, Google, Apple, and Silicon Valley, there are ample avenues to 20 x 20: closing tax loopholes on the wealthiest corporate commercial property owners, closing the carried interest tax loophole on high-end financial transactions, getting the promised and decades-overdue federal and state funding for special education, and more.
     
  4. We must attract students and families to our public district schools and nurture their long-term commitment to our schools. LAUSD has gone from 800,000 students to less than 600,000 students over the course of a decade. Great educators and lower class sizes will partly help us increase enrollment, but there must be much more. We must take outside-the-box actions to make our schools more attractive through efforts such as removing unused bungalows and creating more green space. Moreover, we must press the district to use its substantial influence to help with family and community stability outside the classroom, which we are doing through our Common Good bargaining proposals by, for example, increasing the stock of affordable housing in LA (half of the decline in enrollment is because of the unaffordability of living in LA), creating a legal defense fund for families facing immigration issues, and advocating for free public transportation for students. These help families concretely, while also building powerful coalitions with parents and communities as we show unambiguously that “we have your back.”
     
  5. We must show a proactive concrete vision for what our public, district schools should be, and we must start funding that model of schools. We have put forward a bargaining proposal to invest $10 million into the transformation of 20 schools into Community Schools — schools with a broadened curriculum, parent engagement, wraparound services, fully supported restorative practices, and an emphasis on teaching, not testing. It’s working in Cincinnati and Austin, and it can work here — let’s invest in these 20 sites and then scale it upward and outward.
     
  6. We must stop the privatization and unregulated charterization of LA education that destabilizes and financially undermines our neighborhood schools every day (the other half of the enrollment decline is due to the unregulated growth of charters). This charterization also creates a race to the bottom in educational and work standards. The district needs to respond to our School Accountability bargaining proposal, which outlines common-sense accountability standards with charters that could be legally implemented tomorrow. Moreover, as our organizing and escalation intensifies around our contract, and its waves hit Sacramento, efforts to change state charter school law must be twinned with our 20 x 20 advocacy. 
     
  7. We must organize ourselves for the long-term. Educators are always going to be a driving voice in making schools better. Our voices are more powerful when we are organized — around school-site issues and around citywide issues. The lifeblood of this organization is Contract Action Teams, which chapter chairs and leaders have formed this year at hundreds of our schools. Chapter chair Kyla Fields and vice chair Ernestina Hernandez at Plummer Elementary in the San Fernando Valley used their CAT structure to address a pressing school-site issue. Parents weren’t always getting accurate information about what was happening at Plummer and often did not have information from an educator’s point of view. The CAT collectively developed a flyer for parents and has been distributing and posting it in every corner of the campus (one of the strengths of employing CATs), using it as a foundation for conversations with parents about how to get accurate information and a foundation for stronger relationships. Chapter chair Maria Lopez and vice chair Sheila Vargas at El Sereno Middle School used the CAT structure to drive conversations across the entire campus about turning out to the October 11 school-site picketing and the November 16 rally. The responses and the resulting numbers were excellent. CATs are our present and our future on how we will put organized school-site power behind pressing local issues, grievances, parent organizing, and citywide priorities.

    Our model works, and we need to double-down on it: organizing for the here and now, organizing for the future, and building strategic escalating actions. Let’s continue pushing and make even more progress on healthcare. Let’s organize for salary, class size, staffing, professional respect, charter school regulation, and Community Schools. Let’s celebrate the leadership of school-site leaders like Veronique, Kyla, Ernestina, Maria, Sheila, and parents from Reclaim Our Schools LA, and let’s multiply those leaders. Let’s organize against the choice to privatize our schools rather than fund them. Let’s organize for a sustainable, high-quality, thriving public education system. I hope to see you at your school site soon, and keep up the great work.