Fewer School Days, Free Health Insurance for Los Angeles Teachers

Fewer School Days, Free Health Insurance for Los Angeles Teachers

The school year keeps getting shorter in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Yet teachers still get free health insurance coverage while the district spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to cover the cost of the premiums.

That’s much different than most school districts around the nation, where teachers often pay as much as 30 percent of their insurance premiums, and districts use the savings to maintain adequate instructional programs for students.

Does the Los Angeles school district value union employee perks more than student instruction?

One might wonder if that’s the case after reading EAGnews.org’s new report, “Sucking the Life Out of America’s Public Schools: The Expense of Teachers Union Contracts, Part 5, United Teachers Los Angeles Contract.”

The fact is that LAUSD spends an astronomical amount of money on labor costs every year. Most of the expenses originate with the district’s collective bargaining agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union.

EAGnews.org recently surveyed the 2007-11 collective bargaining agreement and used a freedom of information request to obtain actual costs tied to many provisions in that contract for the 2010-11 school year.

We discovered that, while the district was laying off employees and cutting instruction days to help address a $640 million deficit in 2010-11, it was spending $416 million on insurance premiums for teachers and retirees with no contributions from the insured parties.

The district also dropped $382 million on substitute teachers, $62 million on “instructional coaches,” $47 million on automatic annual raises for teachers who were not laid off, and $6.2 million in extra pay for teachers who occasionally cover for absent colleagues.

The high cost of substitute teachers was almost certainly related to the 337,778 paid sick and personal days taken by teachers that year. That averages out to 12 paid days off per teacher in a nine-month (and shrinking) school year.

Overall, the report estimates that the district (with the cooperation of the teachers union) could have saved nearly $300 million without cutting anyone’s base salaries by trimming, eliminating, or suspending many unnecessary labor expenses in 2010-11.

And the madness apparently continues. The district and the union recently agreed to cut five more days from the 2012-13 school calendar to help save money. According to media sources, the district has now eliminated 18 school days from the calendar over the past four years.

Yet there seems to be no serious effort to address labor costs.

Public schools exist to serve students, and their needs should come before staff needs. The parents of Los Angeles should rise up and demand that the district straighten out its priorities and focus future spending on students.

Headline Image: Jennifer Gollan, BayCitizen.org