Are LAUSD Teachers Underpaid, or Does it Cost Too Much to Live in California?

Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

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In California, public sector unions pretty much run the state government. Government unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. There is no special interest in California both willing and able to mount a sustained challenge to public sector union power. They simply have too much money, too many people on their payroll, too many politicians they can make or break, and too much support from a biased and naive media.

The teachers strike in Los Angeles Unified School District cannot be fully appreciated outside of this overall context: Public sector unions are the most powerful political actor in California, at the state level, in the counties and cities, and on most school boards, certainly including the Los Angeles Unified School District. With all this control and influence, have these unions created the conditions that feed their current grievances?

The grievances leading the United Teachers of Los Angeles to strike center around salary, class sizes, and charter schools. But when the cost of benefits are taken into account, it is hard to argue that LAUSD teachers are underpaid.

According to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the median salary of a LAUSD teacher is $75,000, but that’s just base pay. A statement by LAUSDin response to a 2014 report on LAUSD salaries challenged the $75,000 figure, claiming it was only around $70,000. They then acknowledged, however, that the district paid $16,432 for each employee’s healthcare in 2013-14, and paid 13.92 percent of each teachers salary to cover pension contributions, workers comp, and Medicare. That came up to $96,176 per year.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking Education Budgets

This average total pay of nearly $100K per year back in 2013-14 is certainly higher today – even if salaries were not raised, payments for retirement benefits have grown. For their 35,000 employees, LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion, and their OBEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for most LAUSD employees, receives funds directly from the state that, in a complete accounting, need to also count towards their total compensation. And CalSTRS, as of June 30, 2017 (the next update, through 6/30/2018, will be available May 2019), was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent!

The reason to belabor these unfunded retirement benefits is to make it very clear: LAUSD paying an amount equivalent to 13.92 percent of each employees salary into the pension funds isn’t enough. What LAUSD teachers have been promised in terms of retirement pensions and health insurance benefits requires pre-funding far in excess of 13.92 percent. To accurately estimate how much they really make, you have to add the true amount necessary to pay for these pensions and OPEB. This real total compensation average is well over $100K per year.

To put LAUSD teacher compensation in even more accurate context, consider how many days per year they actually work. This isn’t to dispute or disparage the long hours many (but not all) teachers put in. A conscientious teacher’s work day doesn’t begin when the students arrive in the classroom, or end when they leave. They prepare lesson plans and grade homework, and many stay after regular school hours to assist individual students or coordinate extracurricular activities. But teachers working for LAUSD only work 182 days per year. The average private sector professional, who also tends to put in long hours, assuming four weeks of either vacation or holidays, works 240 days per year – 32 percent more. The value of all this time off is incalculable, but simply normalizing pay for a 182 day year to a 240 day year yields an average annual pay of not $100K, but $132K. Taking into account the true cost of pensions and retirement healthcare benefits, much more than $132K.

This is what the LAUSD teachers union considers inadequate. If that figure appears concocted, just become an independent contractor. Suddenly the value of employer paid benefits becomes real, because you have to pay for them yourself.

California’s Ridiculously High Cost-of-Living

If a base salary of over $70,000 per year, plus benefits (far more time off each year, pensions far better than Social Security, and excellent health insurance) worth nearly as much, isn’t enough for someone to financially survive in Los Angeles, maybe the union should examine the role it played, along with other public sector unions, in raising the cost-of-living in California.

Where was the California Teachers Association when restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375 were passed, making housing unaffordable by restricting supply? What was the California Teachers Association stance on health coverage for undocumented immigrants, or sanctuary state laws? What did they expect, if laws were passed to make California a magnet for the world’s poor? Don’t they see the connection between 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in California, and a housing shortage, or crowded classrooms? Don’t they see the connection between this migration of largely destitute immigrants who don’t speak English, and the burgeoning costs to LAUSD to provide special instruction and care to these students?

From a moral standpoint, how, exactly, does it make the world a better place, when for every high-needs immigrant student entering LAUSD schools, there are ten thousand high-needs children left behind in the countries they came from, as well as less resources for high-needs children whose parents have lived in California for generations?

When you make it nearly impossible to build anything in California, from housing to energy and water infrastructure, and at the same time invite the world to move in, you create an unaffordable state. When California’s state legislature passed laws creating this situation, what was the position of California Teachers Association? Need we ask?

The Union War Against Education Reform

Charter schools, another primary grievance of the UTLA, is one of the few areas where politicians in California’s state legislature – nearly all of them Democrats by now – occasionally stand up to the teachers unions. But why are charter schools so popular? Could it be that the union controlled traditional public schools are failing students, making charter schools a popular option for parents who want their children to have a better chance at a good education?

Maybe if traditional public schools weren’t held back by union work rules, they would deliver better educational results. The disappointing result in the 2014 Vergara vs. California case provides an example. The plaintiffs sued to modify three work rules, (1) a longer period before granting tenure, (2) changing layoff criteria from seniority to merit, and (3) streamlined dismissal policies for incompetent teachers. These plaintiffs argued the existing work rules had a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, and proved it – view the closing arguments by the plaintiff’s attorney in this case to see for yourself. But California’s State Supreme Court did not agree, and California’s public schools continue to suffer as a result.

But instead of embracing reforms such as proposed in the Vergara case, which might reduce the demand by parents for charter schools, the teachers union is trying to unionize charter schools. And instead of agreeing to benefits reform – such as contributing more to the costs for their health insurance and retirement pensions – the teachers union has gone on strike.

Financial reality will eventually compel financial reform at LAUSD. But no amount of money will improve the quality of LAUSD’s K-12 education, if union work rules aren’t changed. The saddest thing in this whole imbroglio is the fate of the excellent teacher, who works hard and successfully instructs and inspires their students. Those teachers are not overpaid at all. But the system does not nurture such excellence. How on earth did it come to this, that unions would take over public education, along with virtually every other state and local government agency in California?


  1. The Captive says

    The Unions are pissed that the CHARTER SCHOOLS are so successful and the government schools only indoctrinate and teach non-skills that do not earn a person money. These schools are consisting of big classes and they teach to what the crap taught in the colleges in CA teach–mainly the LIBERAL -LEFT-LINE OF stupidity! PANDERING to the art of being IGNORANT AND LEFT — A losing line of nothing to be proud of!

  2. Right Captive…
    What we need now nationally is to have a large organization (just like MacDonalds, or Walmart) fund and build overnight private schools everywhere to compete with PUBLIC nonsense schools and empty them out by alternative choice. A private school on every corner instead of MacDonalds.

  3. First off we need to put the education back into the curriculum and remove the indoctrination of children and college students under penalty of law.
    Then we need a way to make so called teachers submit their itinerary for their intended subject matter for scrutinisation and effectiveness. Propaganda and indoctrination should be a crime when used as a weapon to brainwash American children and those who would do this should first be imprisoned and then banished from the United States forever.
    After all this is included in the classroom then we can look at a raise.

    • Every one of our CSU teacher training programs were deemed unacceptable by a peer ranking organization. That must change too. Redlands had the only passing grade along with secondary teacher training at UC. But all the CSU programs up and down this state flunked. More wasted tax dollars. Who will clean up CSU?

  4. Stan Sexton says

    I would like to see all the state, city and county workers spend a year in the private sector. Maybe during a recession like 2008-2012. They have so many guarantees and benefits that a private worker would have to pay for. They take no economic risks. You didn’t mention the subsidized world travel and the special investment vehicles offered teachers. Add that in. My granddaughters kindergarten teacher makes a base of 120k. The principal makes 140k base. These govt workers and the SV millionaires may be the only people left in Calif. Newsom’s Utopia will tax the middle-class out of the state. Their pension plan’s have automatic cost of living increases. Most Californians don’t. Look at their salaries and pensions at and They hate these sites.

    • The unions really hate Transparent California – it undermines the union’s chronic litany – we are under-paid, over-worked, under-appreciated and our morale is bad. Give us more money, and do not ask anything from us in return.

  5. Where in our Constitution does public service unions appear? The Supreme Court should strike them all down. Government employees negotiating with themselves for better pay and benefits? Overall performance is below third world education levels. We have created a monster. Let’s vote them out.

    • SCOTUS did disallow mandatory public sector union membership – the new Trump appointees broke the dead lock on this issue. Janus vs AFSCME 2018. Coming up next at the state Supreme Court is a ruling on the California Rule that has prohibited altering promised public pensions. Which is the other end of the failing schools equation – too much present money no going to pay very high pension promises.

  6. Yes, it costs too much to live in coastal CA, but teachers (at least the ones in UTLA) are, if output is any indication, way overpaid.

  7. And if you say anything regarding what is this story you get censored by the so-called neighborhood organizations like They have clueless monitors and ridiculous rules. If someone doesn’t like what you say, they “report” you and you get a warning. While in sympathy with good teachers, I pointed out much in this article. It was in response to numerous posts urging help for the teachers. Some anonymous reported me as – I don’t know because they don’t tell you – and my post was removed. Dems control the state and their voters can censor even neighborhood discussions. Watch out for the Block Wardens soon to be organized.

    • Good teachers could make a difference if they were willing to opt out of the $1000 a year union dues these groups demand, now that SCOTUS eliminated mandatory union memberships for public sector jobs. This voluntary decision however is not viable considering the frightening and extortive nature of the union bosses today. But opting out and voting to decertify the major unions are both first steps.

  8. The vapid Democrats that keep electing socialist puppets who promise ‘free’ and ‘more’ while refusing to address that stupidity of this self destructive government model are at the very heart of this problem.
    Stop rewarding diversity for the sake of diversity. Stop limiting individual performance such as entrepreneurial Charter Schools… instead reward them based on childrens performance. Pass the Vergara changes… WHY would any parent NOT want thise changes to improve their child’s chance at a meaningful education?
    California is sinking and now El Loco Newsome who replaced Moon Beam Brown and is going to give ILLEGALS (All 2.8 million) FREE medical health care… to go with the FREE education, drivers licenses AND education?
    FREE? How stupid ARE the voters in Cali top elect this union stooge?
    I have lived in Cali my life… and watched the elitests and illegals sink Cali….no longer the Golden State but barely pot metal.
    Screw the controlling unions.
    It is time for WE the people to take back California.

    • More parents must vote with their feet, and choose charter schools. Voters need to starve the unions at the ballot box. But with $800,000 in their war chest they are so impossible to beat, few even dare run against the teacher union backed candidates. Uncontested school board races are often the very sad result. But no one wants to go against their Mean Machine once they smell any opposition.

  9. showandtell says

    LOVE how Ed Ring covers all of the aspects of this debacle.
    It is very difficult to find ANY truth-telling about the strike and its roots or the unions and of course there is NOTHING critical of teachers in California media in January 2019.

  10. I guess the problem is all the new math out there.

  11. It may be called a teacher strike but, from what I hear from the media, it sounds like they’re striking for more librarians, nurses, food services, and people who do anything but teach. What am I missing.

    • They are striking to get more union members, which means $1000 a year each for each new hire.

      Their current $800,000 political war chest is staggering. Even more so because it was originally our own money coming to them as tax dollars, that they are now using against us.

      Declining enrollments, SCOTUS ruling in Janus vs AFSCME and a potential ruling against the California Rule has made them eager to harvest as many new union members as they can muster.

      If this was really about education, they would have offered meaningful reforms demanded by the Vegara vs LAUSD Case. Which they did not; they just demanded more money and more union hires. Even smaller classrooms is not about education, it was only about new hires. And more $1000 a year union dues.

      How do we get ourselves out of this?

  12. I use the term Big Government Unions (BGU), instead of public sector unions.

    People relate better to this term. It describes both who they are as well as their mission: Big Government.

    • showandtell says

      Wow Jaye —- very insightful comments here, and good information about what the real goal of the unions is, thus the motivation behind and the real purpose of the strike. I will be thinking about such events differently now. Average citizens would all have a lot more power if we were all able to decode such situations properly. Thank you.

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