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Teachers under siege in LA school district

Published Nov 21, 2010 8:05 PM

The global capitalist crisis is taking a heavy toll on public education. As in many other districts, teachers and other education workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the United States, are under siege.

This spring LAUSD handed “Reduction in Force” notices to 5,200 workers, mostly teachers. In October the district handed out another 4,600 notices that will result in 990 layoffs and more than 3,000 transfers — many to jobs with fewer hours and less pay — to take effect on Nov. 30. The primary targets of these layoffs and transfers are mostly out-of-classroom workers, like maintenance, custodial, cafeteria and office staff, whose services are crucial to the schools.

On Nov. 19 members of United Teachers Los Angeles will carry out informational leafleting to reach out to parents about the layoffs and the problems they will cause in the schools. The union is calling for a protest at the school board meeting on Nov. 30. (www.utla.net)

LAUSD claims that state budget cuts have left them with a huge shortfall. California received about $1.2 billion from the state bailout legislation that Congress passed in September. LAUSD received its share.

The district also found several hundred million dollars in the budget that was previously undetected, but it is still not rescinding the layoffs. UTLA has repeatedly urged the district to fight for more funding. Instead, LAUSD is blaming the union for all the district’s failures, looking for ways to weaken the union, and trying to turn parents against the union.

Fighting to help the poorest schools

An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit settlement against LAUSD throws out seniority protection for workers in 45 schools in the current round of layoffs. Although LAUSD was the defendant, the settlement is favored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and by Schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Instead of improving conditions for the students who were ostensibly the plaintiffs, the suit was transformed into a weapon against seniority rights. Negotiations were carried out with no input from any of the unions that represent LAUSD workers. The suit was launched on behalf of three schools that were disproportionately hit in the layoffs last year and that were left even more understaffed than others in the district. During the following semester, a string of substitute teachers struggled but didn’t succeed at their jobs.

LAUSD officials know that the problem is one of underfunding and not the unions’ seniority plan. Beginning in the mid-1980s, a consent decree forced the district to take measures to reverse the disparity in the poorest schools between underfunding and the lack of experienced teachers. It compelled them to set aside extra funds for teacher training in poor schools where there were fewer veteran teachers and to go to extra lengths to recruit more experienced teachers. It was beginning to work; the key ingredient was funding.

In 2006 the consent decree ended, and the progress that had been made waned. Lawyers for LAUSD argued in court that an extension of the decree was unwarranted because the policy changes that occurred would be continued voluntarily. But that didn’t happen, so the poorest schools in the district began losing their most experienced teachers again.

Since 2006 when the decree expired, UTLA has asked LAUSD to join with them in devising a plan to improve the disparity and to continue efforts to get more veteran teachers into the poorest schools. However, LAUSD has ignored all such appeals. The lawsuit’s settlement will now further reduce the pool of experienced teachers by attacking seniority rights. A judge must still ratify the decision. Meanwhile, the teachers’ union is pulling out all the stops to try to reverse it.

Some elements in the capitalist class want to sabotage public education. Their interests lie in charter schools, which open the possibility for privatization. Already, LAUSD has 170 charter schools within the district, the largest number in the country. Another 43 schools are up for bid by charter organizations.

Most charter schools are non-union, and studies show that many haven’t lived up to their promise. Supporters like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Family, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and others claim to want “innovation” and “fresh ideas” to save the education system. What the capitalists really want is to eliminate unions so they can drive wages down further.

The struggle for the unions that represent workers in the Los Angeles school district is to try to establish some control over how the waves of layoffs occur. They need solidarity from all organized labor and the entire working class during this crisis.

The best strategy to stop the attacks and win full funding for public education must include fighting for the rights of communities that have endured racism and neglect by the Los Angeles school district and in the process build class-wide solidarity.