This School Tax Is A Bargain
For just $8.33 per household a month, voters could save hundreds of
L.A. Unified teachers’ jobs and help preserve arts education in
Those are the headlines over the LA Times highly-paid columnist Steve Lopez’s column today in which he reveals that unlike his newspaper’s editorial board, he supports LAUSD’s $100 per parcel tax to avoid some teachers from being laid off.
“I say yes, and maybe it’s because I have something no member of our
editorial board has: A child who attends an L.A. Unified school,” writes Lopez.
It says a lot about LAUSD that the 10 or so well-paid editorialists at the Times don’t have kids in the city’s public schools, something that puts them in step with thousands of other affluent LA residents.
Like Lopez, I’m a firm believer in public schools and my son is a graduate of Taft High and Berkeley and now is a post-graduate student at UC San Diego. The parents of the 650,000 LAUSD students, nearly 90 percent of them poor, immigrant or minorities, also believe in public schools or can’t afford to buy the education their kids need.
Quite simply, the district is overwhelmed by students with great needs and has failed to make significant strides for three decades in carrying out the reforms needed to meet them or win the confidence of those who can afford private schools.
Writes Lopez: “Times are tough, and people don’t want to dig into their pockets right
now, especially since there’s no citizen oversight written into the
measure. On top of that, the teachers union has stubbornly resisted
needed reforms, the district bureaucracy can be awful and the school
board is no great shakes, either. So do we really want to send these
people more money?”
No, we don’t and the reasons are many.
It’s not because we don’t want to “save the jobs of 350 teachers, along with
400 custodians and campus aides. Seventy-five nurses, counselors and
psychologists will be spared. High school class sizes, already in the
40s, won’t swell any further. And arts programs in the elementary grades
could be preserved,” as Lopez enumerates what the $100 million a year that Measure E would generate.
It’s not even because a parcel tax is the most regressive tax there is. It’s the same $8.33 a month for a tiny cottage in Watts as it is for a Bel Air mansion or an office building worth hundred million dollars.
Voters have backed school bond issue after bond issue — taxes based on the value of property — only to see their money go to build schools that cost up to $500 million, only to see the latest bond issue not even needed for seven years from now.
We’ve seen superintendents and reform plans come and go but we’ve still not seen major improvement in dropout rates or achievement. We’ve seen the mayor take over the schools, at least indirectly, and still not seen the changes we were promised. We’ve recently seen the mayor and district officials collude with the ACLU to stop layoffs of teachers at three impacted schools, two of them directly under the mayor’s control.
We’re seeing the mayor, Superintendent Ramon Cortines and even teacher union leader A.J. Duffy duck the parcel tax campaign, presumably because their standing in the community is so low they would generate more “no” votes than “yes” votes. Instead, the campaign for Measure E is “hoping that if the turnout
is low, only the most passionate voters will take to the polls and
support the schools.”
There’s good reason for running an underground campaign just as events that occurred Tuesday showed.
One of the most important reforms enacted to protect the squandering of taxpayer money at LAUSD was the creation of the Inspector General’s office and the appointment of former FBI agent Don Mullinax to the position.
Mullinax proved so tough and thorough that after a few years, they cut his funding and drove him out of office.
On Tuesday, Jerry Thornton, the current Inspector General, met the same fate. According to word leaking out from the school board’s closed-door session, Thornton — who was largely frozen out by the board and top officials for most of a year — was terminated because
his audits of spending and programs had a “gotcha” tone.
A review of recent audits showed Thornton found P-card abuses like someone at an early childhood education center racking up “$1,100 in dating services” on the card of someone else who was on leave and the “potenti
al for abuse and
misuse” of P-cards for millions of dollars in district and federal stimulus funds.
Of even greater significance is what happened at Verdugo Hills High on Tuesday and how the district is trying to make this scandal go away.
Community activists have long campaigned to get an investigation into LAUSD practices of marking truants present in class for the purpose of collecting the $25 daily attendance payment from the state.
What happened at Verdugo is that Principal Diane Klewitz sent home forms for parents of graduating seniors authorizing their children to go on three-day field trips to get them out of the way while other students were taking standardized tests and still collect the $25 payment..
The trouble was the field trips were for the students to stay at home, something that would not allow for the $25 daily attendance payment — costing $5,000 a day in revenue for the 200 seniors given “stay-cations.”
Klewitz told Howard Blume of the Times she inherited the tradition from her predecessors. In other words, it’s common practice to scam the system and let 17-year-olds party for three days.
“Parents signed a slip saying they’d rather have their children stay
home than sit in an auditorium,” Klewitz said. “There are issues in terms of
safety [when you] ask kids to sit in an auditorium all day. They tend to want to go out and roam the campus or jump the fence
and disappear and roam the streets.”
So being in school is dangerous but being off campus and doing whatever graduating seniors do is safe?
Some parents disagreed and complained and the Times called for comment so the district ordered the kids back to school today and promised to check whether Verdugo cheated in the past.
Don’t expect them to end the practice everywhere else and clean up the truancy issue they have ignored for so long.
These current examples are just small elements in the grand rubric of LAUSD’s failures.
Board member Tamar Galatzan, the only board member to vote against putting the parcel tax on the June ballot, explained her opposition in these terms:
“Now is the time to look at
every single program, how it’s funded, who benefits from it, get rid of the
ones that don’t work and change the ones where the funding mechanism isn’t
benefiting our students.”
That’s exactly what LAUSD needs to do to restore the public trust and get the money it needs to do a better job.
It’s what the district has needed to do for 30 years but the district’s leadership and the union prefer to go on protecting policies that have failed the students and the city as a whole.