United Teachers Los Angeles' (UTLA's) House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly January 15 to compel our negotiations team, in contract talks with LAUSD, to demand a 17.6 percent salary increase, retroactive to the 2013-14 school year. Pay for LAUSD teachers continues to rank near the bottom in educator salaries for L.A. County. UTLA members have endured 16 unpaid furlough days the past few years and nearly seven years without a raise or even a cost-of-living adjustment. If the school district's goal is -- and it should be -- to bridge the student achievement gap, not only is our salary demand reasonable, but teacher pay should have never been allowed to slip so low in the first place.
Attracting and retaining teachers is a problem for LAUSD, and no one I know became a public school teacher for the low pay, long hours and lack of professional respect afforded by current LAUSD management. Need a reminder that employees feel disenfranchised from current leadership? Look at the 91 percent of the 17,000 UTLA members who participated in a vote last year who cast a vote of no confidence in our current superintendent.
Some critics argue that the real problem in LAUSD is the size of the contract and were unions to give away job protections, school leaders would be happy to hand over a fair, living wage in exchange. They never mention that the cornerstone of those job protections -- due process -- dates to the Magna Carta and became incorporated into our U.S. Constitution as a means of balancing the rights of the individual against government abuse.
Here are a few of the many examples of that abuse that is going on right now, today, in LAUSD: The $7 billion annual operating budget is rushed through and approved with little opportunity for input from taxpayers; School Board meetings are conducted during the day, thereby disenfranchising teachers, school staff and parents from having any voice in the decisions made that impact our campuses; the District is using bond money for iPads instead of its intended purpose of fixing schools in disrepair; and LAUSD continues to mistreat teachers accused of misconduct.
Another argument against an across-the-board pay raise for all employees is that we need to hold teachers accountable by incorporating merit pay and that, were unions to concede on this issue, school districts would be glad to compensate teachers fairly. While using test data arguably can be a good way to inform instruction, using this information for high-stakes hiring and firing decisions is terribly irresponsible for many reasons. For one thing, the curriculum isn't often aligned with the tests, so evaluating teachers based on information students didn't even study would obviously paint a wildly inaccurate picture of teacher performance. Also, even among the most highly touted models to evaluate student test data, the margin of error is plus or minus 25 percent, so making firing decisions and paying bonuses based on this information would be completely arbitrary and reckless at best. (Look at what happened recently in Washington, D.C., where a teacher was mistakenly fired for being "ineffective" because of a coding mistake on the software program that calculated value-added teacher ratings.)
When I discussed with a group of teachers recently how we have to ramp up pressure on LAUSD for a raise, one member shared how incredibly infuriating and unfair it is that doctors, lawyers and other professionals never have to take to the streets to advocate for something the District should provide teachers in the first place: a fair, living wage. I couldn't agree more.
Keeping wages depressed only increases apathy, fueling discord and division within unions, which is the ultimate goal of those currently in charge -- to weaken unions and eliminate due process protections that people have literally fought and died for.
Meanwhile, talk to any LAUSD teacher and they will tell you they clearly want a fair, living wage and that a raise is long overdue. In fact, in my conversations with fellow teachers and health and human services professionals, I have yet to meet anyone who thinks a raise isn't long overdue. After all, aside from our sacrifices, we helped get out the vote to ensure passage of Prop. 30, and the District is seeing an additional 5.8 percent per student in the 2013-14 school year and an estimated 10.6 percent per student in the 2014-15 school year. So the money is there to fund a long-overdue raise, lower class size, and move us closer to fully staffing every site with full-time nurses, pupil services and attendance counselors, librarians, arts teachers, psychiatric social workers and early childhood education programs, and restoring already slashed adult education opportunities.
Yet, if you listen to those who aren't directly working with students, they'll try to tell you we have enough general fund dollars to buy iPads for every student, but we just don't have the money to pay teachers a fair, living wage. As former UTLA president (and later CTA president) Wayne Johnson told 10,000 striking teachers at the L.A. Sports Arena on May 19, 1989, "They lie, they lie, they lie."