As the Strike Enters Day Four, Caputo-Pearl Distorts the Truth while LA Teachers Meet with Students In Secret
It’s day four of the strike with no end in sight and with thousands of kids, substitutes, parents, and school leaders all caught between the district’s crippled finances and Alex Caputo-Pearl’s blind ambition.
The UTLA President — or the DTLA, the Donald Trump of Los Angeles — appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday to continue his misinformation campaign. Like most people who perpetually spin and obfuscate the truth, they buckle under the weight of informed questioning. Caputo-Pearl followed suit when pressed by Ari Shapiro.
Here are Caputo-Pearl’s top five prevarications, distortions, and misrepresentations from the interview:
5. “We’ve had 50,000 people marching in downtown Los Angeles over the last two days.”
The Truth: Los Angeles police estimated that 30,000 teachers marched on the first day of the strike — roughly 2/3rds of the 50,000 teachers and support staff employed by the district. On day two, estimates indicate that 20,000 marched.
As any of the math teachers in Caputo-Pearl’s union could tell him, these are not numbers that can be summed together. The 20,000 that marched Wednesday are the same who picketed Tuesday minus 10,000 people.
So why did Caputo-Pearl dissemble?
Certainly, bigger numbers create the appearance of larger support. But Caputo-Pearl and his advisors also know that the political viability for this strike hinges on their ability to keep their members engaged. It’s why he has repeatedly messaged to his members that “strike days are work days,” though apparently not for the children who are losing instructional days because of this strike. It’s also why there are increasing reports from UTLA members of bullying by other members of the union.
One LA teacher told me last night: “Look, I want smaller class sizes and more cash in my bank account but I never agreed with this strike. My students are very, very far behind. They can’t afford to miss any more instruction. And I worry for the parents who need to work as well. I thought about going into my school — maybe slipping in a side door. But I’m across the hall from [our school union representative.] She told me that if I don’t strike my year was going to be ruined.”
Clearly, he wants to avoid a headline that between day one and day two of the strike, 10,000 members — a third of those striking — chose to stay home instead. That isn’t solidarity.
It’s likely that Caputo-Pearl’s members are atrophying from the strike because they’re not all on board — whether that’s with the strike itself, or the hostage-taking that Caputo-Pearl seems to revel in. If you lose a third of your striking members over a single day, that’s a demonstration that you’re out of sync with your members.
He’s gambling that LA reporters won’t fact-check him on the numbers.
4. “You have billionaires who are promoting that we not fund our schools and instead privatize them to create a parallel system that does not serve special education students.”
The Truth: Los Angeles parents have been choosing to send their students to charter public schools rather than traditional public schools for decades, and it hasn’t been due to bribery by anonymous billionaires. Unlike the flock of sheep Caputo-Pearl would like to portray them as, these parents have chosen schools for their children that they believe provide the best environment to educate them, similar to any parent who moves to one of the city’s wealthier enclaves or who can afford tuition at private school. For a populist, Caputo-Pearl seems to be pretty against what low-income folks find popular.
The numbers back them up:
The high school graduation rate is nearly 15% higher for charter-educated students than those educated by the traditional system and four times as many students complete college preparatory work.
Students at LA’s charters scored 10 points higher on the rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress Exam compared to those in traditional public schools.
And according to the largest comparative study ever done on achievement between LA’s charter and traditional public students, 48% percent of LA’s charter students had significantly larger gains in reading, an 41% had significantly larger gains in math, compared to traditional students.
Parents are not choosing these schools because of a billionaire’s plan. They’re choosing them because the schools are better for their kids. That’s what any parent should want right?
Furthermore, California education advocate Chris Bertelli presents the truth of charters and special education students:
So why again is Caputo-Pearl stretching the truth?
Demagogues recognize that every compelling story needs a hero and it needs a villain — which is why Caputo-Pearl has devoted so much firepower toward Austin Beutner, despite the fact that real solutions need to come from the ballot box or Sacramento. As Hillel Aron in the Los Angeles Weekly reports, the district will be broke by 2020 without intervention. The financial problems Caputo-Pearl says are fiction are all too real.
And, what better hero for marginalized special education students, the kids with the greatest need in all of Los Angeles, than Caputo-Pearl himself? (Convenient, given his rampant political ambitions.) What better villain than anonymous, straw men billionaires poised to unleash a fury of destruction down upon Los Angeles? They’re being cast as the LA Legion of Doom to Caputo-Pearl’s one-man Justice League.
Caputo-Pearl has spent too much time in movie theaters watching the Marvel Universe. Now, he’s positively giddy about creating his own comic book.
3. “We absolutely have [tried everything in negotiation and this strike is a last resort.] We have been bargaining for 21 months.”
The Truth: According to Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times, Alex Caputo-Pearl has been planning this strike since 2014, long before negotiations ever started and even before Austin Beutner had come into office.
Caputo-Pearl, as we’ve previously covered, is well aware that the only clear solution that will meet the union’s demands will come from either Gavin Newsom in Sacramento or through additional local revenue provided by a ballot initiative for a parcel tax.
In fact, we know he’s aware of this, because UTLA endorsed, Republican board member Scott Schmerelson, who Caputo-Pearl endorsed, was part of the board who raised the idea of a parcel tax to increase funding to the district. The idea was tabled repeatedly, when polling showed that support for the tax fell well short of the two-thirds of voters that would need to approve it, The LAist reports.
Eventually, the parcel tax was voted down.
In a letter released yesterday, and reported by LA Taco, Schmerelson has a new, deeply irresponsible idea: use the district’s reserve funds to pay for Caputo-Pearl’s demands — a move that every city, state, and county economist who has looked at the issue agrees will bankrupt the district and result in a state takeover — and then try to get a parcel tax passed later, before the district goes broke next year. This is the equivalent of using your credit card to buy stocks on margin. It’s wildly irresponsible and you could go bankrupt in the process.
So much for Republicans being the party of fiscal responsibility.
Why has Caputo-Pearl left these details out from his messaging around the strike? Likely, it’s because he’s seen the polling as well and knows that the likelihood of a parcel tax passing is a tenuous proposition at best. Better to take the money now and create a new crisis tomorrow.
Especially since, by then, Caputo-Pearl will be long gone from Los Angeles, especially if the strike gives him the national profile he desperately wants in order to obtain a new position.
2. “We initiated conversations with the mayor to help us make sure that Beutner actually does show up to bargaining.”
The Truth: By all accounts and reporting, it is Caputo-Pearl and his union that has not shown up to the bargaining table and who have been hellbent on continuing the strike. Board member Nick Melvoin told NPR, “We’re at the table with an empty chair on the other side.”
As early as December, the Los Angeles Times’ reported that the union was refusing to continue negotiations.
Caputo-Pearl couldn’t get a parcel tax passed, knew the district wouldn’t budge on spending it’s mandatory reserves that it needs to avoid insolvency, and so he walked away.
Calling a strike was far easier than the nuanced political negotiations with Sacramento and Los Angeles’ voters that will be needed to increase district funding especially when a new tax seems unlikely.
On the bright side, Caputo-Pearl and his union will get back to the table soon. They know that the public’s support for a strike, to say nothing of his members, will begin to drop precipitously as soon as next week. The wave is cresting and Caputo-Pearl recognizes that new cracks will appear in his support’s foundation every day that the strike continues.
Recent reports have indicated that Caputo-Pearl is willing to return to the table — this time with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s help, another politician the union endorsed and spent heavily on. That’s ironic, given that last week Garcetti made the same offer and Caputo-Pearl rejected his overtures to negotiate.
1. “This is the city of LA making the calculation that enough is enough.”
Caputo-Pearl recognizes the political necessity of painting all Los Angelenos as unified around not only his union’s demands but also their tactics. Given the complex financial state of the district, Caputo-Pearl needs the public to be behind him because the school board, mayor, and governor will never acquiesce to the union demands without a plan in place to raise the necessary funds — and all roads to fiscal solvency will go through new, levied taxes.
Yet a resistance of teachers, students, and community leaders has begun to assemble behind the scenes of the picket lines.
Famed education reporter and best-selling author Dana Goldstein reports that low-income parents throughout Los Angeles are struggling with options for care:
Teachers are holding secret meetings with students across Los Angeles to ensure their education continues during the strike — an absolute necessity given the achievement outcomes, graduation rates, and demographics of Los Angeles’ students — including this story in the Los Angeles Times of a teacher going ‘rogue’ and meeting students at a mall, after they petitioned her that they needed help in preparing for upcoming AP exams.
And 21 black pastors from low-income communities across Los Angeles sent a letter to Caputo-Pearl, urging him to return to the table to end the strike, because, “the fortunes of African-American children do not improve on a picket line.”
Support for Caputo-Pearl’s “ultimate” strike has begun to fade because, ultimately, community members don’t want their children used as bargaining chips. And there is no amount of spin that’s going to change that.