This Week in Education Organizing - February 1, 2019

LAUSD Approves Contract, Passes Charter Moratorium Resolution

Parents, teachers and students in Los Angeles are waking up to the realization of their power this week, a week after a tentative agreement was struck between United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  

This week the LAUSD Board voted, first, to ratify the contract agreement won by the union through their strike. The agreement provides full-time nurses at every school, librarians at every secondary school, and additional counselors at high schools. It also tackles the problem of class size—one of the union’s key demands, dropping them slightly next year with promised additional reductions in subsequent years. And it raises teacher salaries.

After approving the contract, the Board then voted 5-1 in favor of a resolution calling on the state to conduct a study on the impacts of charter schools on the district and imposing an 8-10 month moratorium on new charter schools while the study is being conducted—a demand that was also lifted during the teachers strike. This is a massive victory in the city with more charter schools than any other, nationally. (Read an LA Times article about the votes HERE).

“LAUSD has joined the NAACP and other key organizations in calling on the state of California for a moratorium on charters,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl. “This is a win for justice, transparency, and common sense. We need to invest in our existing schools, not follow a business model of unregulated growth when new schools are fundamentally not needed in LA.”

Passage of the resolution was stunning, particularly in light of the fact that a majority of the LAUSD board were elected with heavy financial support from the charter industry.

Over 1,000 charter school students and parents rallied outside the LAUSD meeting in opposition to the moratorium, many of whom seemed to believe (or had been told) that the resolution would force their existing schools to close. That’s not true.  

Charters have grown exponentially at LAUSD, from 10 in the 2000-01 school year to 277 this year, with the district now the largest charter school authorizer in the nation. The current oversaturation of charter schools means that more than 80 percent of charter schools cannot meet their projected enrollment numbers (calling into question the charter industry’s assertion that their schools have waiting lists) and underscores the point that there are already more than enough charter schools to meet demand.

Meanwhile – Closures Begin in Oakland

Meanwhile, despite well organized opposition from the Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN) and other organizations, the Oakland school board voted this week to close the first of what they say will be two dozen school closures in the district because of financial constraints. Despite emotional pleas from students, parents and teachers, the board voted to close Roots International Academy middle school. See additional coverage HERE.

East Baton Rouge School Board Denies Tax Breaks to ExxonMobil

From our friends at In the Public Interest, this story of a recent victory in Louisiana (slightly abridged):

ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas corporation, often cutting deals with authoritarian leaders in countries like Angola and Equatorial Guinea. Its fourth-quarter profit last year nearly quintupled to $8.38 billion after President Trump’s tax cuts.

Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish School Board has a $30 million budget deficit and teacher shortage. Its school buildings and buses are crumbling. Ninety-seven percent of its students, the majority of which are black or brown, qualify for free or reduced lunch. Teachers and school employees haven’t had an across-the-board pay raise since 2008.

Yet, ExxonMobil has received $700 million in local property tax exemptions from the parish over the last 20 years…but not anymore.

Earlier this month, the school board narrowly voted against giving ExxonMobil two property tax breaks totaling about $2.9 million over a decade, one for a refinery and one for a chemical plant. Both facilities have already been built, which left some school board members scratching their heads.

“I would be a lot more receptive for a new project, something that’s going to bring in new business, new jobs,” one board member said.

But this isn’t just a story of elected officials making a rational decision based on the facts.

A teacher walkout threat set the stage in Baton Rouge. Last October, teachers and school support staff voted overwhelmingly to hold a one-day school shutdown to demand that the school board reject ExxonMobil’s request. Within hours, the requests were taken off the agenda for a forthcoming board meeting. Then, after last week’s board vote, ExxonMobil dropped the bids for good.

A company representative says that losing the tax breaks could make them hesitate to invest in the local plants because of a “lack of predictability” and “confusion.”

But the teachers know something much bigger than one corporation’s future is on the line. “The survival of public education is at stake,” said the president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators back in October.

She’s right. The idea that taxes should be perpetually cut on corporations and the wealthy — known as “trickle-down economics” — is gutting public education nationwide, falling the hardest on poor, black, and brown communities.


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