My turn: L.A. teacher’s union can avert a strike and help kids. Here’s how

By David Crane, Special to CALmatters

The United Teachers of Los Angeles, the union that represents teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is preparing to strike because it wants smaller class sizes.

Smaller class sizes is a worthwhile cause. Students certainly would benefit. But a strike would inflict terrible consequences on the district’s 600,000 students and their families. There is a solution and the union has the power to implement it.

In August, both the California Department of Education and the Los Angeles County Office of Education reported that the district’s fiscal situation is serious enough to potentially warrant the imposition of a fiscal adviser.

The district spends $16,000 per student. That is a 37 percent revenue increase over five years. But still, the district is running on fumes.

On Nov. 8, Candi Clark, the county office of education’s chief financial officer, sent a letter to Monica Garcia, the district’s board president, saying the district continues to show signs of financial distress.

Without reform, there will be no money for class size reduction. But within the district’s budget is the solution.

The Los Angeles district is spending more than $300 million a year on healthcare subsidies for retired employees, including retirees who are entitled to Medicare coverage or Obamacare subsidies funded by the federal government.

The district should stop subsidizing health insurance for retirees who are entitled to these federally funded insurances or subsidies. That money could be used to reduce class sizes.

Over time, terminating those subsidies would free up $15 billion, providing a huge boost to further reduce class size, increase teacher pay and hire more counselors, nurses and librarians, all of which the union claims to want.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles has the power to make this change. That’s because the union has authority over the Health Benefits Committee, which determines employee and retiree health plans.

Every year, California’s public schools determine the futures of six million kids. Despite a 60 percent increase in state spending since 2010, fewer than half perform at grade level in reading and writing, and even fewer perform at grade level in math.

A strike at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest district,­­ would irreparably harm 10 percent of California’s students. The union can get what it wants without a strike.

It can reduce class sizes by agreeing that retirees should tap federally funded insurance and subsidies instead of depleting district resources. In doing so the entire Los Angeles school district community would benefit. ­­

David Crane is president of Govern For California and lecturer in Public Policy at Stanford University. His email address is [email protected] He wrote this commentary for CALmatters, to which he is a donor.

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