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L.A. School Board Member Breaks Ranks to Support Striking Teachers, Blames Beutner as District Losses Mount

5:49 PM PST on January 16, 2019

Los Angeles-Downtown, CA – Jan. 15: Teacher protesters rallying during the LAUSD Teacher Strike in Downtown LA on January 15, 2019. (Brian Feinzimer)

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he teachers strike is happening because of Superintendent Austin Beutner and School Board policy of not contradicting him publicly during the negotiations, according to L.A. Unified School Board Member Scott M. Schmerelson.

“I believe that there are resources available to end this strike,” Schmerelson said in a statement. “What I do not see from Austin Beutner, and his supporters, is the political will to substitute constructive negotiations for the fear mongering, expensive taxpayer funded ads, slanted editorials, and endless press conferences.”

Schmerelson's statement comes on the heels of news that school attendance dropped 22 percent from already tiny numbers the previous two days. Only about 132,000 students of the 600,000-plus in the district attended Wednesday. Since 90 percent of school funding comes from attendance, this represents a huge financial hit for the district. L.A. Unified estimates its losses at around $70 million.

The last time UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl and Beutner were at the negotiating table, their respective statements indicated both sides were about $200 to $400 million apart in funding for new hires, which would help to lower class sizes.

Schmerelson publicly opposed hiring Beutner when he was appointed on a 5-2 vote last May.

“Nothing in my experience with him since last May has inspired confidence in his ability to provide effective leadership, accountability or transparency in his efforts, as a non-educator, to manage our school district and the future of public education in Los Angeles,” Schmerelson said. “I can no longer allow Mr. Beutner to speak for me or to suggest that the massive public relations, and often misinformation, campaign that he is waging represents my views about the current teachers strike.

RELATED: Teachers Strike Updates: L.A. Strongly Supports Teachers, New LMU Survey Shows

In the statement posted Wednesday on his website, Schmerelson, who represents northwest Los Angeles on the board, said that in the months leading up to the strike members were told to “speak with one voice.”

“The repeated message to Board Members, over the last several months, was that the only way to avoid a strike was for the Board to speak with one voice,” Schmerelson said. “I have struggled with this concept because it is clear to everyone, who is paying attention, that the one voice that the Board majority supports is that of Austin Beutner.”

Beutner and the district's so-far unified stance had been that the school district could not afford to dip into its nearly $2 billion reserve. Beutner cited declining enrollment predictions in the next three years as the reason for a "rainy day" fund.

Photo by Brian Feinzimer.

George McKenna was the other No vote on Beutner, who is viewed by many as pro-charter. The other members have supported the “one voice” stance and remained either quiet or behind Beutner throughout the negotiations.

“We need to end the strike and get back to our teachers teaching and our kids learning,” Schmerelson said. “As a retired LAUSD teacher, counselor, and principal, I dedicated my life and career serving LAUSD kids. I continue to stand with the kids. For me, this means that I stand with teachers because today they are standing for what's best for students.”

The biggest sticking point between Beutner and UTLA, remains to be class sizes. Another point on which Schmerelson hit the former Wall Street banker. “I also believe that too many of our classrooms are too crowded to truly serve our students,” he said. “For example, how can we say that we are putting kids first when there are 45 students in an Algebra class?”

Photo by Brian Feinzimer.

Schmerelson pointed to the report by a neutral fact finder during the negotiations that cited, "Lowering class size may be one of the keys to increasing ADA, and maintaining and recruiting students to LAUSD."

“LAUSD has a nearly $2 billion reserve,” Schmerelson noted. “Of course, we have financial commitments and need to plan for rainy days. Nevertheless, I believe that Mr. Beutner could at least temporarily repurpose a larger share of this reserve, for the benefit of kids, that could be repaid when additional sources of revenue have been identified and secured.”

RELATED: A Struggle Against Charters: This Is Why Teachers in Los Angeles Are on Strike

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