DTLA—Although the January teachers’ strike ignited passions and inspired unprecedented support for local educators, it had little impact on the finances of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Both pre- and post-strike, the district faced a dismal budget situation.
The 6% pay hike awarded to teachers after negotiations between the LAUSD and the union United Teachers Los Angeles hardly impacts the material challenge that had been on the horizon for years — district costs are rising due in large part to ballooning pension and healthcare requirements, while revenues are decreasing as enrollment shrinks, a result of a birth rate decline and the number of students leaving traditional public schools for charter schools.
Boil it down and the situation is this: The LAUSD needs more money. The question has always been, how does the system that educates some 500,000 K-12 students get it?
The answer is clear and two-pronged: 1) LAUSD needs more funding from the state, and 2) A local cash infusion is required.
The latter element is where Measure EE comes in. Backed by the district, UTLA and Mayor Eric Garcetti, it would tax residential and commercial property owners 16 cents a square foot, raising an estimated $500 a million a year before it sunsets after 12 years.
The investment in local schools (including charters; some money would go to those institutions) is necessary. Los Angeles Downtown News urges people to vote yes on Measure EE on June 4 (mail-in voting has already begun).
Let’s be clear: Measure EE is no magic bullet for public education, and the district still must meet those hefty pension and healthcare requirements. The money from the property tax will help pay the salaries of teachers and other district employees, and help fund reduced class sizes and the hiring of more counselors, nurses, school librarians, etc. Many Angelenos will never notice the benefits.
That said, students and schools will feel the pain if the measure falters and teachers and others face layoffs. That would be a vast failure for all those who marched and chanted in the cold rain alongside teachers.
Some business groups are fighting Measure EE, charging that it is a new tax, that landlords will pass on the hike to renters, and that the district has a history of financial stumbles. All of that may be true, but none is a reason to starve students of the best possible education. The opposition instead seems financially driven — business groups apparently would have accepted a flat per-parcel tax, as opposed to one based on square footage. But that would have limited the funding to an insufficient level.
Business groups are calling for strict oversight and transparency in terms of how much is raised and how it is spent. That makes sense. The district must be accountable. LAUSD needs to prove it can manage money well.
Ultimately Measure EE is step one, and Garcetti, LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner, UTLA and others must convince Gov. Gavin Newsom that the district deserves more state money. California ranks 44th in the country in per-pupil spending. That must change.
In that regard, demonstrating local participation will help with the request for more state dollars. Measure EE is the right step for local schools and students.
Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News