Culver City Observer -

By George Laase
Observer Columnist 

LET SCHOOL BOARD FIX ITS OWN MESS

 

February 8, 2018



In 2012 board members were bamboozled by the local teachers union and its own administrative-insider and teacher-advocate, Superintendent David La Rose--into agreeing to a five-year plan to raise teacher salaries to the LA County median salary.

The cost of this long-term program, at the time, was unknown because there was really no way to know how much the other LA County unified school districts were going to increase their own teachers’ salaries over the next five years. But, I guess, not knowing the cost, it didn’t matter much to the Board.

New Funding

A couple of years later Governor Brown proposed a new way for the state to fund its primary and secondary schools; to try and help close the state’s ever-persistent K-12 achievement gap. His idea was Local Control Funding Formula which gave 50% more funding to each of the state’s targeted districts to help their “high needs” students when their numbers exceeded 55% of the district’s total enrollment.

State Promise Not Kept

Some of this extra funding would have to come from the more successful school districts—such as, local districts like Culver City, Torrance, El Segundo, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. As it turned out the funding received by these successful districts would be significantly less than what they previously received under the old Block Grant/Revenue Limit funding system.

Even though the state’s LCFF clearly has shorted our district of its initially proposed funding, the Board still continued to raise staff salaries by raiding our district’s General Reserve Fund of its one-time money to cover these on-going district costs.

STRS & PERS Fix, Costly

Even when the state passed legislation to shore up the STRS and PERS pension systems, thereby increasing school districts’ mandated payments about 2% each year, our board still decided to go ahead with its five-year plan even though district pension payments are based on and calculated using staff salaries.

When our district’s pension costs sky-rocketed into mid-double digit territory, the Board had a good fiscal reason to re-open salary negotiations. But, board members did not ask for a re-opening, but, instead decided to continue to deficit spend even more as salary, health and welfare costs and the district’s mandated pension costs escalated, aggravated by their own increasing of the district staff’s salaries by 5% in 2014-15, another 5% in 2015-16 and by another 6% last school year.

Unsustainable

By the district’s own numbers, in the past five years the board has agreed to raise certificated salaries 39%, classified salaries 36% and district employee benefits have increased 75%. With these local salary increases combined with the state pension increases, the CCUSD’s pension costs will more than double within the next few years.

To show just how much this board has spent on staff compensation, at the start of its five-year program, there were only 21 teachers costing the district over $100,000 to employ them. At the end of the five years there were 151 teachers costing the district over $100,000 to employ them—that’s an increase of over 700%.

More Tax Money

Board members now see their past multi-year employee raises combined with the still ever-increasing state-mandated pension payments as being unsustainable. Now they want local homeowners to help them dig themselves out of their own budgetary hole, by asking us to pay out another $1.5 million a year for the next 7 years—over $10.0M total.

District Exodus

Board members raised teacher salaries so much over the last five years that many veteran teachers decided to leave the district while the going was good. And for those who decided to stay on longer the board further enticed them to retire by offering them an extra $20,000 “Golden Handshake.”

For Whose Benefit?

Looking back at the start of the district’s “salary investment program,” it seems that if the real goal of the district’s five-year salary plan was to enrich the pensions of the district’s most veteran teachers by increasing their salaries then I guess this program would be seen by them as a great success. But if, as it was originally stated, it was “to ensure our district hire and retain the best teachers available,” then, it failed miserably.

Failing Our Kids

So many veteran teachers have left our district these past few years that the CCUSD has had to try and fill its teaching ranks by hiring 171 new, 1st and 2nd year teachers. According to the LA County Office of Education, this is one of the largest percentages of new teachers hired by any unified school district in LA County and almost double the county average. This flight of Experience out of our district and the hiring of so many new teachers, who lack real-classroom experience, has probably reduced the quality of education offered here in Culver City.

Lack of Fiduciary Foresight

Board members, not only failed to foresee what would happen and adequately manage district savings and annual increases in state revenues; worst of all, they failed our students in the classroom. And isn’t it supposed to be, as we have heard time and again “It’s all about the kids?” But, in the end, what it really turned out to be was a board-endorsed plan for enriching the adults in the district.

George Laase

 

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