Jewish Journal


by  David A. Lehrer

November 2, 2012 | 3:31 pm

Earlier this week I blogged about the decision of the leaders of United Teachers of Los Angeles (LA Unified’s teachers union) to torpedo the School District’s application for $40 million of federal Race to the Top funds. The funds were to be used to benefit 25,000 students in 35 low performing middle and high schools.

As I noted, the reason proffered by UTLA for not co-signing the grant proposal was that it was “budgetarily unsustainable” because the District was required to come up with $3.3 million to receive the feds $40 million; monies which LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy pledged he would raise separately from the District’s budget and which would have no negative impact on the District’s personnel budget.

The blog pointed out that the real reason for the union veto was the US Department of Education’s demand that student test scores be a “significant factor” in the evaluation of teachers in the District by 2014. That was the deal breaker for UTLA---even partial accountability for student performance is so toxic that the union was willing to be the insurmountable hurdle to the cash-strapped LAUSD receiving $40 million.

Parenthetically, there are sizable districts in which unions have agreed to the condition----Riverside, California for one.

As transparent as UTLA’s dissembling on this issue is, it simply can’t be acting on its own, it needs enablers to take such an obstinate and politically untenable position and continue to have moxie in the District. This week revealed an enabler who is so brazen in his commitment to the union’s specious arguments that it is jaw-dropping.

Board of Education member Bennett Kayser wrote a letter to Superintendent Deasy on November 1 (the tone of which was closer to what a principal might have with a fourth grader than a letter among colleagues) excoriating him for allowing the role of UTLA in negating the federal funds to become public (as if the reason for losing $40 million could be kept a secret),

I am terribly concerned about your outreach to the Los Angeles Times and the press effort underway highlighting your inability to gain United Teacher Los Angeles (UTLA) signature on the application….I specifically requested that you hold your fire with regard to public statements criticizing UTLA until after next Tuesday.
At a time when we are stressing the terrible fiscal condition of this institution and that of public education across the State of California, you choose to hammer UTLA for failing to pursue the funds tied to the grant. 
I must again ask that you take note of the context in which you are speaking. [Emphasis added]

The “context” in which this controversy arose is the election next Tuesday and Proposition 30’s fate. Kayser reprimands Deasy for daring to speak the truth and allowing the public to know who vetoed $40 million for LAUSD. Kayser admonished Deasy to “hold your fire” (i.e. shut up) and not let the public know the truth until after the election on November 6th. When was he planning to let us know?

Kayser is rightfully concerned that the public may not take too kindly to the school district seemingly thumbing its nose at $40 million when considering a large, statewide bond measure. But he isn’t excoriating UTLA, his closest ally, who is the culprit and the source of the problem, but rather the victim, as embodied in the superintendent.

Kayser seems to care only about doing UTLA’s bidding---he avers that their unwillingness to sign on to the grant is due to Deasy’s “inability to gain UTLA’s signature on the application.” Unless Deasy can “channel” UTLA’s leader, it’s not clear how he could have “gained” their signature.

Kayser knows full well what the Department of Education’s demands are and that it is not within the Superintendent’s power to waive those requirements. Kayser simply can’t bring himself to acknowledge that UTLA, his patron, is the obstacle that has cost this financially desperate district $40 million.

Kayser’s coup de gras is to threaten to “reconsider my vote” and possibly vote against the grant application unless Deasy “finds common ground with our teachers.” Since today is the deadline and UTLA hasn’t agreed to the federal strictures---that threat has about as much substance as his illogical and intemperate missive.

Ironically, Board member Kayser ends his letter to Deasy by noting that he has “sworn to serve” the District---perhaps he ought to remind himself of the fact that kids are at heart of this District and the reason why it exists.

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