Hardball tactics pay off for L.A. teachers with 10% raise

Hardball paid off for the United Teachers Los Angeles late Friday when negotiators reached tentative agreement on a three-year deal that provides L.A. Unified teachers with a 10 percent pay raise in the first two years. That?s far more than other LAUSD unions got in collective bargaining.

The deal was sold as a win-win proposition by both LAUSD and UTLA leaders.?But for nearly a year, LAUSD number-crunchers had fought for a much smaller raise in briefing L.A. school board members, citing the need to prepare for the pain of the phased-in 130 percent increase in district contributions to the California State Teachers? Retirement System required by the 2014 CalSTRS bailout legislation.

The CalSTRS fix will cost LAUSD an extra $1 billion a year in fiscal 2020-21 when the phase-in is complete. That?s a giant burden for a district that this fiscal year has a $6.6 billion budget.

Nevertheless, school board members were ready for labor peace after the UTLA took serious steps toward a districtwide strike. They not only agreed to a 10 percent raise over two years, they dropped their hard line on making teachers pay more toward their health benefits.

Union ID?d funds for raises that were supposedly encumbered

The question of whether LAUSD had the legal authority to grant the raises never was seriously addressed. Early in negotiations, the UTLA sought a 17.6 percent immediate raise and cited the influx of funds the district had available because of the Local Control Funding Formula reform adopted by the Legislature in 2013.

That reform was supposed to earmark additional school funds for districts to specifically help troubled English-language learners and other struggling students. When the reform was adopted, Gov. Jerry Brown depicted it as a ?revolutionary? step toward helping ensure California had a skilled workforce in coming generations. His aides downplayed the idea that the reform could be gamed at the local level by powerful local union chapters.

However, the Brown administration had no reaction to a Legislative Analyst?s Office report in January that none of 50 California school districts it surveyed, including the 11 largest, had adequate safeguards to make sure the funds were not diverted.

Another aspect of the labor talks also received little attention from the mainstream media. That was UTLA?s claim that members had not received a raise in eight years. In fact, in most California school districts, teachers receive automatic pay raises of 3.5 to 4 percent for 15 of their first 20 years on the job ? ?step? increases. They can also improve their pay classification by taking graduate coursework in any field ? ?column? increases.

In large school districts, this usually means at least 60 percent of teachers get pay-scale raises every year. The percentage is higher in districts with more turnover.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year ? Will They Strike Anyway?

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year ? Will They Strike Anyway?

By Ed Ring, executive director, California Policy Center

?Our demands, they?re not radical. When did it become radical to have class sizes that you could actually teach in? When did it become radical to have staffing and to pay people back after eight years of nothing??
?? Alex Caputo Pearl,?President, UTLA, February 26, 2015, Los Angeles Times

If the 35,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents employees of Los Angeles Unified School District, actually go on strike, in large part it will be because they want an 8.5% salary increase and the district is only offering them 5%. They also want smaller class sizes ? tough to do when you?re passing out salary increases. But how much do these teachers actually make?

If you review the most authoritative source of public information on LAUSD salaries, the California state controller?s public pay website you will get the impression they aren?t making much. The?summary page for LAUSD?shows ?average wages? of $40,506 per year and employer paid ?average retirement and health? benefits at $10,867 per year.

This is extremely misleading. These ?averages? include part-time workers such as student teachers and substitute teachers. But the ?Raw Export? tab of the state controller?s website yields more comprehensive information.

If you eliminate part-time workers and eliminate workers who were hired or left employment mid-year ? based on screening out of the data any individual record where the recorded ?base pay? is 10% or more less than the stated ?minimum pay for position? for that record ? a very different compensation profile emerges. In reality, teachers who worked full-time during 2013 for the LA Unified School District made direct pay that averaged $72,781, and they collected employer paid benefits averaging $17,012, meaning their total pay and benefits package was $89,793. And they collected this in return for working between 163 and?180 days per year (ref.?UTLA/LAUSD Labor Agreement, page 30).

Properly estimating?how much LAUSD teachers make, however, requires?at least two important additional calculations, (1) normalizing their pay to take into account their extraordinary quantity of vacation time, and (2) taking into account the state of California?s direct payments into CalSTRS as well as the necessity to increase CalSTRS contributions in order to pay down their unfunded liability.

Normalizing for vacation time is easy. Using the larger number referenced in their labor agreement, 180 days per year of work, based on 260 weekdays per year, means LAUSD teachers work 36 weeks a year and get 16 weeks off. The typical private sector worker rarely gets more than four weeks off, two weeks of vacation and two weeks of paid holidays. While many professionals earn more than two weeks of vacation, they are also required to be perpetually on call and often work far more than 40 hour weeks. Many entry level or low income workers don?t get paid for any holidays or vacation. It is reasonable to assume the typical teacher works?12 weeks less?per year?than the average private sector worker. This translates into a $24,260 value on top of the average LAUSD teacher?s direct pay of $72,781 per year.

?Eight years of nothing.? Really, Mr. Caputo Pearl?

Normalizing for the value of pensions is not easy, but using similarly conservative assumptions we can develop reasonable estimates. For starters, from the?CalSTRS website, here?s what the state contributes:

?The state contributes a percentage of the annual earnings of all members to the Defined Benefit Program.?Under the new funding plan, the state?s contribution is increasing over the next three years from 3.041 percent in 2013?14 to 6.328 percent beginning?July 1, 2016.?The state also contributes an amount equal to about 2.5 percent of annual member earnings into the CalSTRS Supplemental Benefit Maintenance Account. The SBMA account is used to maintain the purchasing power of benefits.?

Sticking with current contributions ? 3.041 percent plus 2.5 percent, based on ?member earnings? referring to ?direct pay,? that adds another $4,033 to the average earnings of an LAUSD teacher.

In summary, LAUSD teachers are threatening to strike because they only make ? using real world equivalents ? $97,041 in direct pay, plus $21,045 in employer paid benefits. The average full-time LAUSD teacher earns total compensation worth $118,086 per year. Throw onto direct pay the 5% offer from the district, worth another $4,852 per year, and you have a total average teacher compensation proposed to go up to $122,938 per year.

Any critic of this analysis who happens to be an LAUSD teacher is invited to work 48 weeks a year instead of 36 weeks a year, or, of course, give up their pension benefit. Otherwise, these are the numbers. To verify them, download this spreadsheet analysis which uses payroll and benefit data provided by LAUSD to the California State Controller?s office: ?LAUSD_2013_Compensation-Analysis.xlsx?(10.0 MB).

No reasonable person should fail to sympathize with the challenges facing teachers in Los Angeles public schools. But the solution is not higher pay. The solution is to purge the system of bad teachers, reward excellent teachers, give principals more autonomy, stop promoting and retaining teachers based on seniority, measure teacher effectiveness based on the academic success of their pupils, and, gasp, improve the ratio of teachers to support staff. As it is,?during 2013 LAUSD spent $2.6 billion on full-time and part-time teachers, and $2.1 billion on full-time and part-time other staff. Do they really need to spend 45 percent of their payroll outside the classroom? The solution is also to?lower?the cost of living for everyone, through supporting government policies that encourage competitive development of land and resources.

Finally, this estimate of the value of average total compensation for LAUSD full time teachers is still dramatically understated, because CalSTRS remains wallowed in an underfunded position that is?officially recognized?at $73.7 billion.

To the extent the leadership of the UTLA and their membership subscribe to ?left wing? political sentiments, remember this:

There are currently $4.0 trillion of state/local U.S. government worker pension fund assets overseen?by managers who rampage about the entire planet?demanding?annual yields north of 7.0 percent per year. This is a financial maelstrom of cataclysmic proportions that is corrupting the entire global economy. It is an act of wanton aggression against honest capitalists and private households attempting to save for retirement. Ongoing annual returns of this size require asset bubbles which require risky investments and cheap credit ? antithetical to sustainable economic growth.

Remember this as you fight to enhance?your compensation and defend your pensions as they are ? you have exempted yourself from economic reality and are recklessly gambling with the future of the people you supposedly serve. Through your pension funds, you are benefiting from capitalism in its most aggressive and parasitic form.

Remember all this when you go on strike because you?ve had ?eight years of nothing.?

* ? * ? *

Ed Ring?is the executive director of the?California Policy Center.

L.A. Superintendent Deasy’s Defeat

John Deasy is a blunt man with little use for nuance. At times, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District seems to enjoy getting in people?s faces. As?Doug McIntyre?observed in the?Los Angeles Daily News,?Even Deasy?s supporters acknowledge he can be prickly, humorless, stubborn and thin-skinned.? Others describe him as bull-headed and impatient. School board member Steve Zimmer observes that Deasy often used a?sledgehammer?sometimes joyfully so?when a scalpel would have sufficed. Deasy?s deficit of politesse drew the ire of the teachers? union from the beginning of his three-and-a-half year tenure and eventually cost him friends and allies on the board. Sensing his days in Los Angeles were numbered, he tendered his resignation on October 16.John Deasy

Deasy?s record is mixed. He had some success in bringing teacher evaluations into the twenty-first century. He championed charter schools. He supported California?s?parent-trigger law, which empowers parents at an underperforming school to force a change of governance. After the Miramonte Elementary School?sexual-abuse case?in 2012, Deasy enacted a?zero-tolerance?policy that led to the dismissal of more than 100 teachers for misconduct and the resignation of about 200 others in lieu of termination. He also testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in?Vergara?v.?California, the class-action lawsuit in which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state?s archaic seniority, tenure, and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional.

Reformers give Deasy credit for the district?s improved test results. Even though?test scores?did go up somewhat under his tenure, it?s difficult to attribute that improvement to Deasy. A recent?Brookings Institution study?found that superintendents on average account for just ?0.3 percent of differences in student achievement.? Deasy?s supporters also say he reduced the district?s dropout rate, but their argument relies on some fuzzy math. In April 2013, LAUSD reported a 66 percent graduation rate. Last month, the district proudly announced its graduation rate had improved to 77 percent. That higher rate was made possible by excluding students in ?alternative schools? ? where the graduation rates can be as low as 5 percent?and so-called ?invisible dropouts,? who leave during or after middle school. They don?t count as high school dropouts because they never dropped in.

Deasy undercut his successes with expensive, unforced errors. A wildly ambitious, $1.3 billion plan to put Apple iPads into the hands of every district student was a debacle. Last year?s rollout began amid confusion. Would the students be allowed to take the devices home? Who would be responsible for tablets that were lost or stolen? Many students breached their iPads??security locks?and used the devices for non-academic purposes. Deasy halted the program in August after e-mails revealed he had discussed a possible contract with Apple before the official bidding process began. The ?MiSiS crisis? followed on the heels of the iPad scandal. The district launched an online school-information system that was nowhere near ready, resulting in thousands of students starting the school year without class schedules. The new system also couldn?t?generate transcripts?that seniors needed for college applications.

The superintendent?s ambitious reforms and high-profile failures made him an easy target for the United Teachers of Los Angeles. In April 2013, the union launched a ?Whoopsie Deasy? campaign with the goal of ousting him. The UTLA encouraged teachers to give the superintendent a ?no-confidence? vote, listing ten reasons it considered him a menace to the teaching profession. These included a six-year salary freeze; the allegation that ?testing was overtaking teaching?; and the assertion that Deasy was too cozy with ?billionaire outsiders.? The effort resonated with the union rank-and-file, who obligingly delivered the?no-confidence?vote by a roughly ten-to-one margin. But the UTLA regularly savaged Deasy for the same reason the reformers cheered him on: He came to the job seeking to shake up the sclerotic system, and viewed the union and its cronies on the school board as impediments to his pro-child agenda.

Overseeing the second-largest school district in the United States is a thankless and difficult job even for managers with less appetite for reform than Deasy. Consider the parade of L.A. school superintendents over the past 14 years. Former New York City schools chancellor Ramon Cortines held the job briefly in 2000, before former Colorado governor Roy Romer replaced him in July of that year. Retired Navy admiral David Brewer succeeded Romer in 2006. Cortines returned for two years in 2009. Deasy replaced him in 2011. Now the octogenarian?Cortines is back?for a third stint, this time as ?interim? superintendent. How long he?ll stay is anyone?s guess.

Deasy?s departure raises the question of whether LAUSD is manageable by anyone. Is a district encompassing 31 cities, covering 720 square miles, with 655,000 students speaking 87 languages, taught by 32,000 teachers, and aided by a support staff of 35,000 simply too big to succeed? Wouldn?t it make more sense to break up the district? It?s not a new idea. The?San Fernando Valley?north of Los Angeles tried to secede from the city in 2002, in part over dissatisfaction with the schools. Voters outside the valley overwhelmingly opposed the secession referendum, so it failed. In 2004, former state assembly speaker turned mayoral candidate?Bob Hertzberg?promised he would lead ?a task force of teachers, parents, principals and other experts to come up with a plan to create smaller, community-based districts.? Hertzberg lost. Two years later, state Assemblyman?Keith Richman?introduced a bill to split LAUSD into more than a dozen smaller districts, overseen by a commission of mayors, university professors, and the state superintendent of public instruction. The bill didn?t pass. Most recently,?Marc Litchman, who unsuccessfully challenged veteran Democratic congressman Brad Sherman to represent a district in the western San Fernando Valley, promised his first bill would be aimed at splitting up L.A. Unified. ?The schools have to perform,? Litchman said. ?They?re not performing to the level we all hoped they would. In Los Angeles, the biggest barrier to that is the school district.?

If the district is the biggest barrier to student success, it is also the biggest barrier to dissolution. Former state senator Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, told me that splitting L.A. Unified ?would be the messiest, most costly divorce ever.? She says the various laws and regulations governing the district are ?written in such a way, with so many twists and turns and back alleys to navigate, that even those who control that dysfunctional maze … probably [couldn?t] find a way out.?

Absent a change in the law or a radical shift in public opinion, L.A. Unified students and families likely will remain stuck with business as usual. And it?s difficult to imagine the school board hiring another provocateur as Deasy?s permanent replacement. As National Council on Teacher Quality president Kate Walsh?told?L.A. School Report?after Deasy?s resignation: ?I don?t know a single person on earth who would want that terrible job. It won?t be a change agent. It will be a status quo candidate who will make life pleasant for himself by enjoying all the wrapping of the superintendency and being smart enough not to try and change a thing.? That might be a politically savvy move ? but a complete disservice to L.A.?s kids.

This article was originally published at www.city-journal.org

LAUSD Turmoil Continues Despite Superintendent Resignation

John Deasy?s recent resignation as the?superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District ends three years of controversy. But a cloud of chalk dust remains over the mammoth district?s future.

Deasy?conceded?his policies sowed sharp disagreements. And a conciliatory statement?by the?LAUSD School Board?acknowledged??academic achievement rose substantially despite severe economic hardships, and the students of the district have benefitted greatly from Dr. Deasy?s guidance.?

The LAUSD Board of Education tapped his?predecessor, Ramon Cortines, 82, as an?interim replacement, giving it time to find a longer-term leader?who could take the troubled LAUSD in a new direction.

Deasy?s rocky tenure culminated in dual controversies ? his emphasis on quantifying education improvement through testing and his strong personal push to increase the use of technology in the classroom. In the first case, critics said, Deasy?contributed to a climate of stress and inadequacy for teachers unprepared to meet higher testing goals. In the second, critics blasted?Deasy?for overreaching with a rushed and?ineffective $1.3 billion program to give iPads to all the district?s 650,000 students.

Testing trouble

Deasy?s reforms?upset the L.A. status quo on a number of levels. As the Los Angeles Times?observed, Deasy made waves with??a teacher evaluation system, stricter bars for gaining tenure, a classroom breakfast program and a stronger embrace of alternatives to turn around struggling schools ? including charter schools and the complete replacement of staff.? Though most?of these measures threatened to take control away from teachers unions, Deasy?s?desire to hold teachers accountable through student testing drew the most ire.

Among administrators, Deasy wasn?t alone in taking that approach. Its prominence in the?Common Core system, which is being implemented in California and many other states, led a growing number of unionized teachers to speak out in opposition.

Previous to his work with the Los Angeles schools, Deasy served as deputy director of education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Common Core has been?closely associated with Bill Gates, who almost single-handedly?fueled?the initiative with millions in funding and closed-door lobbying.

With that background, few were surprised when the?testing reforms Deasy advanced were ?fought by teacher unions and some community activists,? who?opposed ?so-called corporate reform because it often involves data-driven performance reviews that can affect high-stakes personnel decisions,??according?to the Times.

The limits of technology

In the worst ordeal of his time as superintendent, Deasy tried to swiftly implement a plan that would make?iPads a classroom standard. Although a LAUSD investigation concluded Deasy did not act unethically, his effort?became an albatross amid technological failures, vendor problems and student hooliganism.

As Time?reported, some students ?hacked the devices ? which the district had said were meant solely for academic work ? to enable more general use. And when the program began, some schools did not yet have proper wifi infrastructure that would allow all their students to be online at the same [time].?

On the positive side, the hacking crisis did show LAUSD kids were more adept in?the growing?high-tech economy than district officials suspected.

A brewing crisis

Deasy?s departure?summed up a broader trend in education reform battles playing out nationwide. It pitted traditional allies against one another, including Democrats and their teachers union backers.

Democrats? flagging credibility on education has been exacerbated this year by election-year politics and the?Vergara ruling, which held California teachers union tenure protections unconstitutionally infringe on students? rights.

But Democrats ? like many pro-corporate Republicans ? turned to a?small network of wealthy, successful elites to respond to the nation?s systemic education problems. GOP heavyweights like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett lent their support to Common Core in an effort to broaden Republicans? appeal ? despite the?opposition of many of their conservative allies.

And Democrats embraced the Gates and Deasy approach as a way of taking the focus off of teachers unions. Gates, the world?s richest man, is a Democrat.

Those reformers discovered, however,?that the public education system could not be transformed effectively through testing or technology.

Deasy?s exit again puts LAUSD policy up for grabs, with potential reforms including the?perennial proposal?to break?up the nation?s second most populous school district to make it more responsive to voters, parents and students.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

 

Is Common Core Technology Worth It?

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds:

California?s transition from its previous STAR program to the Common Core State Standards has been slow and more costly than expected. With the first Common Core tests scheduled for this spring, school districts are still struggling to provide all of the necessary technology and bandwidth for the new assessments, which are required to be administered electronically in lieu of traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

State Budget Solutions, a nonprofit research organization, released a report last week on the technology spending for Common Core in California?s top five districts: Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Fresno, and Elk Grove. The study revealed technology cost overruns, controversial funding plans, and a myriad of problems that accompanied the new technological devices in multiple districts.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, has been heavily criticized for using public bonds to finance its iPad program that is estimated to exceed $1 billion. Immediately after the first batch of iPads was distributed, LAUSD dealt with additional challenges of students breaching firewalls, missing and stolen devices, and confusion over accountability. Last month, the district officially suspended its contract with Apple due to high costs and ethical questions regarding Superintendent Deasy?s relationship with Apple during the bidding process.

Other districts, such as Fresno and Elk Grove, are facing problems of technological readiness. Fresno Unified found that the new tablets are difficult to use for students who are unfamiliar with touch-screen keyboards and do not have computer access at home. Elk Grove Unified would like to incorporate more online content in the classroom, but lacks adequate funding after spending the majority of its Common Core money on installing wireless access, replacing obsolete computers, and buying over 8,200 Chromebooks.

These findings raise an important question that states and school districts ought to consider: is Common Core technology worth it? Advocates often talk about closing the ?digital divide? and providing students with the skills and technology necessary for the 21st century workforce. Ideally, every student in the country will at least have access to a personal computing device in the near future. But to ask states and school districts to finance this massive technological overhaul in a limited time span of a few years is not only likely to fail, but also fiscally irresponsible given the deep cuts in education during the recent recession.

The report lists a handful of the many solutions available that can offset technology costs for districts. Among them include a tax credit to incentivize low-income families to buy computers or tablets for students to bring into schools. California education leaders have a tough job of implementing Common Core ahead of them, but ensuring the state?s financial stability and focusing on student learning and growth (as opposed to standards-based exams and technology purchases) are essential for the future of the state.

Hannah Oh is a Visiting Analyst at State Budget Solutions, focusing her research on education.?