This is a wakeup call for the pro-charter forces bleeding public education dry

By Marcy Winograd

The author is a retired LAUSD teacher who taught English at Venice High School. She’s responding to “We Don’t Need a Teacher’s Strike,” Opinion, Jan. 10.

Former charter school principal Wendy Zacuto’s criticism of teacher’s union leadership ironically offers ample evidence to support them in carrying out the will of the overwhelming majority of teachers who voted to authorize a strike. As Zacuto points out, class size is untenable — research clearly shows that cramming 40 to 60 students into a standing-room only high school classroom undermines their education.

At Venice High School, amazing teachers engage their students in deep analysis of the canons of literature, in poetry slams that juxtapose the classics with modern verse, and role-plays of historical characters who fought for a more equal and just society, all the while contending with challenging class sizes that redefine a teacher’s job description as part traffic cop.

What Zacuto, a veteran of public schools, fails to address is that charters — publicly funded but privately operated schools, some of them with unelected boards, administrators without credentials and a dearth of special education programs — defund our neighborhood schools by not paying their fair share of building maintenance and employee health care costs, as outlined by a 2016 report to the school board by LAUSD’s chief financial officer.

United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) charges that charter schools are bleeding the district of $600 million each year while subverting the original mission of charter schools, which was to act as laboratory schools partnering with neighborhood schools to share the most innovative practices. Instead, we have a separate but equal standard in Los Angeles, a city with one of the highest concentration of charter schools in the state, where charter schools — far from collaborating — compete with neighborhood schools for resources.

In part, this strike is a wake-up call for the pro-charter forces on the LAUSD school board — Mónica García, Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez — and for the billionaires who bankrolled independent expenditures on their behalf, and to the lawmakers who should impose a moratorium on charter schools before this blue state mourns the death of public education.

Yes, the privatization agenda will only accelerate if teachers do not expose LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner’s “portfolio” plan to slice and dice this school district into 32 mini-districts, replicating administrative duties at great cost and shuttering long-established neighborhood schools to open charters in their place while promoting charters in students’ open enrollment packets.

It is disingenuous for Beutner, a former investment banker with zero experience in education, to bargain through the media and argue that he supports public education while sitting on a $1.9 billion reserve, all the while pushing a portfolio plan that threatens to bankrupt our district and force LAUSD to sell off its prime downtown real estate to charter-backing billionaires at bargain-basement prices.

As a 25-year veteran of LAUSD, I am sensitive to the short-term pain of students who miss their teacher or of teachers who struggle without a paycheck, but I support this strike because I see the long game: the need to support public education over privatization. What’s good for our teachers — lower class sizes, more nurses, more counselors — is good for our students.