United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 gathered yesterday outside of the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) office to protest budget cuts imposed by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Thousands of teachers and education workers took to the street under a “Stop the Carvalho Cuts” banner while the LAUSD Board of Education held its general meeting. 

Two weeks ago, Carvalho spoke at the end of a Board retreat that included discussions on LAUSD’s budget outlook. Carvalho noted the teacher lay-offs affecting districts across California but said LAUSD was in a better position than most districts to weather the state’s economic difficulties. He credited LAUSD’s financial position to “good fiscal management” in the district. Though Carvalho maintained that budget cuts would take place “outside of the schoolroom,” UTLA and Local 99 contend that Carvalho’s budget cuts have harmed students, teachers, and education workers. 

School budgets have been slashed across the district and positions have been eliminated. Though teachers aren’t being laid off, as Carvalho promised, education workers across the board are seeing their positions eliminated and their hours cut. Teaching assistants, bus drivers, school psychiatrists, and custodians are just some of the workers under threat by the district’s budget cuts. UTLA and Local 99 contend that Carvalho is taking vital services away from students under the guise of responsible fiscal management. 

LAUSD had a reserve – a mix of restricted and unrestricted funds – of $1.9 Billion in 2019. The reserve has tripled since then, now standing at $6.3 Billion. Due to the district’s deficit, Carvalho and financial officers have projected that the reserves will be completely depleted over time. This is a familiar narrative for the district. As the reserve has grown to record-breaking levels over the last five years, district leadership has warned about the reserve’s limits and the district’s financial precarity without immediate austerity measures. 

In 2019, then-Superintendent Austin Beutner foresaw a similar disaster befalling the district’s reserves which ultimately didn’t occur. UTLA won a new contract in 2019 after a historic six-day strike. In 2022, while LAUSD’s reserves were at an all-time high of $2.5 Billion, Carvalho was ringing the same alarm about the budget and arguing that cuts needed to be made for the long-term financial solvency of the district. In 2023, SEIU Local 99 struck for three days, winning a contract with better wages and benefits. Local 99 is currently in negotiations for its next contract with the district. 

Both unions, citing recent history with district leadership, are unconvinced that Carvalho’s financial projections should necessitate the defunding of LAUSD schools. Before UTLA’s 2019 strike, former UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl wrote “The district warns about a fiscal cliff, but its warnings ring hollow. Three years ago, district officials projected that the 2017-18 reserve would be $105 million. They were off by more than $1.7 billion.”

UTLA and Local 99 questioned Carvalho’s motivations, claiming he is concerned more with amassing money for the district than providing LAUSD’s schools with the funding they need. “We refuse to stand by because we know the facts,” one Local 99 member said yesterday. “We know that the funds are there to support the services and the students.” UTLA argues that only a fraction of the $6.3 Billion would be needed to keep schools fully funded.

Speakers at the rally yesterday warned that the cuts would harm students – by removing positions or reducing hours to education workers students would lose a support network that keeps students safe and academically and emotionally supported. “We need our staff. All of our staff is important. From our special education assistants, our campus aides, our teachers, everybody. We need our people,” one speaker said.

A teacher at Thomas Starr Middle School said the school was set to lose $800,000 next year. The school would lose two school climate advocates, six campus aides, and two custodians. Their psychiatric social worker’s days on campus are being cut to two days a weekl.

“What will students do next year when an adult isn’t there to support in emergency situations? This is not safe,” the teacher with UTLA said. “Instead of sitting back and letting them cut mental health and special education services, what do we say to the district?” The teacher asked. The crowd answered loud and clear: “Stop the cuts!”  

In addition to staff reductions, the district has been cutting hours for current workers, making some full-time positions part-time. Speakers at the rally yesterday said the hours are being cut to keep the district from paying those employees benefits they would receive if they worked full-time. 

Alicia Baltazar, who serves on LAUSD’s parent advisory committee and has been involved with the district for more than a decade, echoed frustrations with Carvalho. “Never in my time have I been more appalled and more confused by a superintendent’s behavior,” Baltazar said. “We are sitting on $6.3 Billion and yet we’re looking at cuts? Make it make sense.” Her son’s school in Wilmington will lose all of its electives due to budget cuts. “How is a school like this supposed to thrive? It’s not going to.”

Speakers spoke of the unions’ battles with the district in recent years. Max Arias, the executive director of SEIU Local 99, called Carvalho’s communications deceptive. “It’s like we live in two different worlds. We live in the real world, he lives in a world where there are no cuts, there are no lay-offs.” Workers affected by the thousands of hours cut by the district are “The first line of defense” at schools. “We’re expecting about 8,000 hours of cuts a day next year,” Arias said. “That will be around 1,500 workers.” In response to Carvalho’s claim to prioritize homelessness and housing insecurity – LAUSD reported that more than 9,000 of its students were homeless in 2023 – Arias argued that cutting hours for workers, many of whom are also parents to students in the district, in fact, contributed to the housing crisis students are facing. 

Arias said Carvalho’s tactics amount to union-busting. The cuts, he says, are “Retaliation for the historic strikes of last year.” 

UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz spoke on the district’s yearly budget crisis. “Each year this district says they’re in dire financial straits if they fully fund our schools,” Myart-Cruz said. Carvalho “Says ‘kids first’ but saving money is first,” she continued. “Carvalho cuts are when students and schools pay the price while you try to undermine everything the community has fought for and won.” 

Despite the district’s massive reserve, union leadership argued that LAUSD officials would rather pursue pet projects than listen to the needs of their schools. “Like Public Enemy said,” Myart-Cruz ended her speech, “‘Don’t believe the hype.’”

Photo by the author. 

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