- Los Angeles Unified School District
Setting the Record Straight
In a series of interviews, press conferences, news stories and an opinion column in recent weeks, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has made a number of false and misleading statements about Los Angeles Unified, its contract proposals to the UTLA, the bargaining negotiations, the district’s finances, class sizes and charter schools.
Here are the actual facts about several topics that have been discussed in recent weeks.
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED’S RESERVES
“[The district has] close to a $2 billion in reserve. Record level. 25% of budget in reserve. It is not fair to hold that and not spend it on our students, who are overwhelmingly low-income students, overwhelmingly students of color who deserve equity and access.” – Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 3, 2019 during an interview by Kyle Stokes on KPCC’s Air Talk
Los Angeles Unified is spending its reserve on students: $500 million of the $1.8 billion is already earmarked for federal and state-required programs, such as supporting students in poverty with tutoring and intervention programs. The graph below illustrates exactly how the reserve is being spent.
For additional information about how the reserve works, click here.
When the new school year begins in July 2019, Los Angeles Unified will have about $800 million of the reserve left: $500 million of the $1.8 billion is already earmarked for federal and state-required programs, such as supporting students in poverty with tutoring and intervention programs. An additional $500 million is being used for a 6% pay raise for all employees, including teachers; to pay for additional nurses, counselors and librarians, and to improve class size. Because of the budget shortfall, the remaining $800 million will be completely depleted by the 2021-2022 school year. By then, Los Angeles Unified will not be able to meet even the 1% required reserve standard, let alone the state of California’s 3% requirement.
“Beutner has also said that the district doesn’t have reserves that will last longer than two to three years. The reality is that L.A. Unified had a reserve of $1.86 billion at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Its latest budget documents show the reserve growing to $1.97 billion in the 2018-19 school year. The district warns about a fiscal cliff, but its warnings ring hollow.” – Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 7, 2019 Los Angeles Time op-ed, “Why Los Angeles Teachers May Have to Strike”
The math is clear. Unless something changes, Los Angeles Unified will be insolvent by 2021 when it will have depleted the $1.8 billion reserve.
Since 2015, six different credible entities – the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, three different independent reviews and now the state appointed Factfinder have all said the same thing: Los Angeles Unified is facing a financial crisis. On January 9, 2019 Los Angeles County Board of Education assigned a team of fiscal experts to work with Los Angeles Unified to develop a Fiscal Stabilization Plan to address the District’s worsening financial outlook.
“LAUSD is facing a significant structural deficit in its operating budget that threatens the District’s long-term financial viability … If the District desires to continue as a going concern beyond FY 2019-20 … then a combination of difficult, substantial and immediate decisions will be required. Failure to do so could lead to the insolvency of the LAUSD, and the loss of local governance authority that comes from state takeover.”
- Independent Financial Review Panel, 2015
“LA Unified is facing a structural budget deficit which threatens its long-term viability and its ability to deliver basic education programs. The District’s own forecasts show it will have exhausted its reserve fund balance by 2020-21 … and therefore be insolvent.”
- LA Unified Advisory Task Force, June 2018
“LAUSD is in a worse (financial) condition than many others … My presence is indicative that this is serious.”
- Nick Schweizer, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, September 2018
“It's very clear you’re living off the reserves. That’s not wise, that’s not prudence, that’s not fiscal solvency … (Los Angeles Unified) is not a district that is too big to fail.”
- Candi Clark, Chief Financial Officer, Los Angeles County Office of Education, September 2018
“The drastic reserve reduction continues to be alarming and of great concern to LACOE."
- Los Angeles County Office of Education, November 2018
“The second reason that the District’s proposal today was unacceptable is that it proposes to raise class sizes up to 39 students in elementary school and up to 46 students in secondary school.” – Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 7, 2019 press conference
Los Angeles Unified offered to add 1,200 additional teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians in schools by reinvesting more than $100 million. This would allow Los Angeles Unified to:
- Reduce class size by four students in 75 elementary and 15 middle schools with the highest needs
- Add 300 teachers to reduce class size in grades 4 through 6
- Reduce average class size in high school by two students
- Reduce class size in 816 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math secondary classes to ensure all 15,463 ELA and Math classes have 39 or fewer students
NOTE: On Jan. 11, the district increased this offer even further, to almost 1,200 new school personnel and reinvesting $130 million. That offer also was rejected by the UTLA.
“Class sizes often exceed 45 students in secondary schools; 35 students in upper elementary grades; and 25 students in lower elementary grades.” – Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 7, 2019 Los Angeles Time op-ed, “Why Los Angeles Teachers May Have to Strike”
Los Angeles Unified agrees that decreasing class sizes would make our schools better, UTLA is grossly misstating current class sizes. Almost 60% of all schools have 29 or less students. The chart below accurately reflects class sizes across the district.
Moreover, on January 11, 2018, Los Angeles Unified once more proposed to increase funds to reduce class sizes and hire more counselors, nurses and librarians, from $30 million to $130 million. UTLA rejected the proposal. The increased funding would have provided almost 1,200 additional educators.
With those additional staff members, Los Angeles Unified would have been able to:
- Reduce all secondary math and English language classes to 39 or fewer students
- Add one additional academic counselor at each comprehensive high school
- Provide nursing services each school day at every elementary school
- Provide library services at every middle school
- Reduce class size to 32 students at 75 the highest need elementary
- Reduce class size at 34 at 15 of the highest-need middle schools
- Lower class sizes by 2 in all high schools
- Lower class size by 2 at all middle schools
- Ensure that no class sizes in grades 4-6 exceed 35 students
“You’ve got an investment banker superintendent who has no education experience, but lots of downsizing experience who refuses to talk about privatization and charterization.” -- Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 3, 2019 during an interview by Kyle Stokes on KPCC’s Air Talk
There’s a simple reason why Mr. Beutner does not discuss charter schools: the law limits his control over charter school approvals. That responsibility falls primarily on the Legislature. Under California law, school districts have to abide by the requirements of the Education Code and a school district has to approve charter schools if the schools otherwise meet the requirements of California law. Mr. Caputo-Pearl acknowledged that when he said, “It is true. Kyle, you are right, that it is not a bargainable issue.”
Even though charter schools are governed by state law and are not a bargainable issue, which UTLA has also conceded, Los Angeles Unified has proposed to create a Working Group with UTLA to address issues and provide recommendations to:
- Address co-location issues
- Provide rigorous oversight of all schools, including charter and traditional
- Long-term space planning
“But you have to understand that everything that happens in LA is shaped by mass privatization and charterization. Because you have $600 million a year that is drained out of the public-school system.” -- Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 3, 2019 during an interview by Kyle Stokes on KPCC’s Air Talk
Charter schools do not drain money from public schools as Los Angeles Unified does not provide teaching services to those students who elect to attend charter schools. Charter schools receive state funding just like any other public school.
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED EFFORTS IN SACRAMENTO
“We have got reports from legislators that they say they don’t know why he was there. Because he wasn’t talking about state funding. He was actually talking to legislators about trying to stop a legal strike rather than talking about state funding.” – Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 11, 2019 press conference
That is false. On January 9, 2019 Superintendent Beutner and Board of Education President García met with Gov. Newsom’s office and state legislators who represent the communities that Los Angeles Unified serves. Superintendent Beutner and President García are working hard to place public education at the forefront of the agenda in Sacramento and increasing funding is central to that effort. The next day, Gov. Newsom released his first budget, which included $576 million – more than half-a-billion dollars – for special education programs in public schools.
OVERSIGHT OF LAUSD
“There’s another event this week Austin Beutner brought out a final, desperate attempt to get people to believe that this district is on the edge of insolvency. The reason the county experts came in is because Beutner asked them to come in as a political ploy.” – Alex Caputo-Pearl, January 11, 2019 press conference
It appears that Mr. Caputo-Pearl doesn’t understand the basic oversight structure of Los Angeles Unified. Debra Duardo was appointed Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors effective May 15, 2016. She is the top education leader for all of Los Angeles County and does not report to, or take direction, from the Los Angeles Unified Superintendent. In fact, she is one of two public officials who have oversight responsibility of the District. The other is the California Superintendent of Schools, Tony Thurmond who oversees all education policy for public schools across California. Dr. Duardo’s decision to assign a team of fiscal experts to work with Los Angeles Unified to develop a Fiscal Stabilization Plan came after months of warning. The purpose of the plan is to address the District’s worsening financial outlook by eliminating deficit spending and restoring the required financial reserve levels. Additional information about the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s efforts can be found here.