Ask any teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District if they would rather take a pay cut in the guise of furlough days or have five more students in their classes next year. Without a doubt, the latter would be the choice for the majority of our classroom instructors in LAUSD.
Or ask these same hard-working colleagues if they would take a pay increase if they would only clean their own classrooms and empty their trashcans. Again, the answer would be a resounding "yes" to creatively solving our current budget woes.
One would think that this common sense approach at communicating with its members by offering simple choices would be taken up by our union leaders at United Teacher of Los Angeles (UTLA). Instead, under the panic of budget cuts and million dollar deficits, hotter heads prevailed when the dreaded “L” word was threatened by Superintendent Ramon Cortines in this latest Helen Bernstein compromise where teachers bend over quickly in a co-dependent drama and “solve” the budget crisis by taking yet another pay cut.
In the business world, no one ever asks the workers of IBM or Chrysler to take a pay cut. Companies simply lay off workers and people say it’s a shame and move on to other avenues of employment. No one in the public cries “Foul!” or “Unfair!” It is simply a harsh reality of living in a capitalistic society. After the layoffs, the leaner and fiscally fitter company comes back stronger---and if profits soar in a few years, some people are hired back. But in our business of teaching students, UTLA seems only interested in saving jobs, but not in creating a better, stronger teacher force for the future.
Presently, our district is bloated and needs to take a Slimfast approach with its rank and file. For every teacher working in the classroom, we have two outside positions “supporting” them and our students. Some support is definitely needed -- such as a nurse or teacher’s aide -- but others -- an office bureaucrat or six-figure administrator who works in Beaudry under the division of “Leadership Academy” -- we don’t need. If we want leaders, we need only look into our schools to find them fighting the good fight every day. Those other positions can go.
Another layoff that would be less painful than teachers taking a pay cut would be the mandatory retirement of anyone over 60 years of age who has worked for the district 30 years or more. With over 2,000 employees who fit this bill, the District could save over $160 million. These veterans who are forced to retire wouldn’t bear any financial burden and would, in fact, actually make more take home pay than they presently receive while working. More importantly, they would be opening up the fresh recycling process our profession desperately needs to maintain.
Under the tentative agreement currently proposed by the District and union, we would have to maintain a hiring freeze on new teachers because we want to save jobs. This is unfortunate since the lifeblood of our profession is not saving jobs, but in creating, molding, and supporting the fresh young faces in our profession who will be on the front lines of teaching the students we want to be colleg-e and career-ready. These veterans who cling to their jobs because they wouldn’t have anything to do at home, (a 72-year-old administrator actually intimated this to me) bottleneck the rest of us from fulfilling the circle of our professional lives.
There are other creative and more humane ways to solve our present fiscal crisis, such as rethinking school busing and school police by working with the city to cut down costs (eliminate the buses and give our student MTA passes) or creating “new” online hybrid schools that treat high school students more like college students. For example, my doctor can presently take my blood pressure, monitor my heart rate, and prescribe an exercise routine from his office computer. Why not do the same for physical educaion teachers?
If a similar online system were created for our many continuation high schools that house as few as 36 students each, we would avoid paying for a secretary and principal.There are already hundreds of these concept schools sprouting up all over the country and on the Internet. Our union and district need to find out how these “schools of the 21st Century” can be utilized to save our district even more money.
Before our Bernstein compromise of pay cuts was announced to the public, my union sent me a “UTLA Bargaining Flash!” that had none of the ideas or concepts mentioned above. No creativity, no other possibilities, and no new ideas; just disagreements on the logistics of furlough days and budget cuts. I, for one, will not agree to any furlough cuts until my leader looks into the ideas I and others have suggested.
Perhaps the first option he should consider is my 60/30 year proposal. If he fell on his own sword, our union could emerge as a 21st organization instead of the current caveman institution presently negotiating our fates as teachers.
Alfee Enciso, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has worked in education as an administrator, English teacher, Literacy Coach, and Social Studies Specialist. He has presented throughout the state on literacy, culturally relevant teaching, and reading and writing strategies for teachers. He currently works at Banning High School as a teacher librarian.