LAUSD hasn’t shown it can be responsible. Vote No on Measure EE
On June 4, voters in the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District will decide whether or not to approve Measure EE, a $500 million per year parcel tax increase.
Formally, Measure EE, which requires two-thirds support to pass, calls for a new 16-cent-per-square-foot tax of structures on properties within LAUSD for the next 12 years.
While the promise and premise of the measure is sure to resonate with anyone concerned with ensuring a robust local public education system, a close look at Measure EE leads us to conclude that this measure should be rejected.
It would be one thing if LAUSD, after doing all it could to be financially responsible, came to voters with a thoroughly vetted proposal produced with substantial community and stakeholder input to increase funding to achieve these ends.
But that’s not the measure we have before us.
The measure was rushed to the ballot after abrupt hearings were convened by the school board in February.
School board member Nick Melvoin, who voted to put the measure on the ballot, said as much. “This effort was rushed,” said Melvoin. “It could have been a collaborative, more drawn-out process. But this vote is about putting something on the ballot and it’s up to the voters whether to pass it.”
Business groups usually willing to support additional taxes for education including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce have been forced to strongly oppose the measure. “We are committed to helping develop a plan to increase investment in our schools, but this parcel tax is not the solution,” announced Maria Salinas, president and CEO of the Chamber.
To understand why, one only needs to understand the context of the vote to place the $500 million annual tax hike on the ballot. The vote came soon after the resolution of the UTLA teacher strike, in which the LAUSD chose to settle the strike with financial commitments it could not fulfill.
For years, LAUSD has been on a troubled fiscal course. Back in 2015, the district was warned by an independent panel that it “is facing a significant structural deficit in its operating budget that threatens the District’s long-term financial viability.” Declining enrollment and growing deficits “driven primarily by pension and healthcare costs” had to be addressed.
Alas, years later, the district failed to do much beyond tinkering at the margins. Fast forward to August 2018, when the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s chief financial officer warned the district wasn’t “too big to fail” and that the county could impose a fiscal adviser if the district didn’t get its act together. The following month, the district was warned a state takeover could happen.
Then the UTLA, whose president boasted in 2016 about “our capacity to create a state crisis” to “protect our health benefits,” went on strike. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner predicted budget deficits and claimed the union’s demands would put the district on an unsustainable financial path. But the district caved, in part due to the mediation efforts of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, having achieved no reforms and failing to assert the importance of financial responsibility.
This is the dysfunctional system that gave rise to the rushed half-billion-dollar annual tax hike that is Measure EE, a tax that will add yet another direct burden to property owners and businesses and an indirect burden to consumers throughout LAUSD.
But the worst aspect of Measure EE is that it will only encourage LAUSD to continue on its unsustainable path without pressure to do the hard but essential work of ensuring it’s spending what it’s spending appropriately and effectively.
Voter approval of Measure EE will preserve the dysfunction at LAUSD and ensure more funds are diverted from the classroom and toward pensions and unsustainable health care costs.
We urge voters to demand that LAUSD reform itself first, then come back with a credible plan to boost funding. The first step is to vote No on Measure EE.
This editorial was published on LA Daily News on May 10, 2019.