MOORLACH UPDATE — Casting Shadows — January 4, 2019

Motor Voter is still casting a shadow over the election process and the Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been stonewalling and deflecting the audit findings that something is amiss. He is the author of AB 1461, the bill that brought us this unique voter registration strategy (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Motor Voter Accountability — December 21, 2018). To date, there still is not a confirmation that non-citizens did not vote. This is the topic of The Sacramento Bee piece below.

Speaking of shadows, the massive unfunded retiree medical liability, finally placed on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s balance sheet, should have teachers hesitant about striking on January 10th. They should take only the proposed pay increase and run. Because LAUSD’s leadership should actually be discussing pay decreases before they are forced on them by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). The LA School Report provides a thorough overview of next week’s potential events (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — $15 Billion Obligation — December 27, 2018 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Masking Fiscal Problems — December 10, 2018).

Did non-citizens vote last year? California officials still can’t say

By Bryan Anderson, The Sacramento Bee

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/did-non-citizens-vote-last-year-california-officials-still-cant-say/ar-BBRMQBR

https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article223886630.html

California officials still can’t say whether non-citizens voted in the June 2018 primary because a confusing government questionnaire about eligibility was created in a way that prevents a direct answer on citizenship.

The snag comes from a voter eligibility questionnaire that lumps five separate characteristics, such as age and citizenship status, into one prompt that people see at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they try to get or renew a driver’s license.

Investigators can see that people marked themselves as ineligible to vote or declined to answer eligibility questions, but they can’t tell why.

“We can’t assume why they declined to answer eligibility questions or why they said they were not eligible,” the Secretary of State’s Office wrote in an internal memo on Oct. 8, 2018.

That email and other documents The Sacramento Bee obtained through the Public Records Act shed light on why the Secretary of State has been unable to say clearly whether non-citizens voted last year. The Bee filed a legal complaint for the records when the Secretary of State initially withheld most of them.

The email shows that, for months, California officials have been examining whether non-citizens voted last year. On Thursday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla confirmed for the first time that his office has an active internal investigation into the matter.

“The Secretary of State’s office does not comment on the details of ongoing investigations,” the office said in a statement. “Determining whether ineligible individuals who were erroneously registered to vote by the DMV cast ballots requires a complete review. The Secretary of State’s office is doing its due diligence by conducting a thorough investigation.”

Spokesmen for the office declined to say how the department could otherwise determine citizenship of those registered.

While the office is confident non-citizens were unable to vote in the November general election, it remains unsure about the June primary.

Since the DMV started automatically registering people to vote on April 23, 2018, it has acknowledged making 105,000 processing errors out of more than 2.4 million transactions. At least one non-citizen has come forward to say he was improperly added to the voter rolls in the latest batch of errors.

Padilla was quick to lash out at the DMV and the California Department of Technology for the mistakes that may have added non-citizens onto the voter rolls.

“This last notification raises grave concerns about the method in which the DMV and CDT have implemented the program,” Padilla wrote in an October letter to the agencies’ directors.

CDT declined to comment because its director, Amy Tong, was unavailable. The DMV said it is not responsible for verification of voter eligibility and deferred citizenship questions to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Blame aside, Padilla and his critics agree the registration errors undermine voter confidence in California’s election systems.

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, said he still has “a high level of confidence in California’s election systems,” but thinks the state “can do more to assure the voters that the system doesn’t have holes in it and that the boat isn’t leaking.”

While Moorlach insists voter fraud is a legitimate possibility, Padilla disagrees.

“These registrations do not constitute voter fraud, as none of the individuals erroneously registered did so through any affirmative effort on their part,” Padilla wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to Moorlach.

Republicans are responding to the Motor Voter growing pains by calling for sweeping changes to the program. Senate Minority Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, introduced a bill last month that would adopt an opt-in voting process and do away with automatic registration of customers.

Padilla has praised Motor Voter for boosting turnout. but he said in early October that he was considering halting the program.

He opted not to do so.

“Tens of thousands of Californians will continue (to) register or update their voter registration information at the DMV — people that want to participate in the upcoming midterm elections,” Padilla’s office wrote in the memo. “I do not want to deny this opportunity to these Californians.”

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LAUSD, UTLA back to the bargaining table & more: 8 teacher strike updates you might have missed over winter break

Taylor Swaak

As nearly half a million L.A. Unified students return from holiday break on Monday, the district and its teachers union plan to sit down for a last-ditch attempt to avert a strike. If there’s no agreement, United Teachers Los Angeles intends to strike next Thursday. There are more than 30,000 UTLA members who could participate.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday called a strike “all but inevitable,” CBS Los Angeles reported. Garcetti said the city is preparing contingency plans to assist families, and L.A. police have been working with the district on extra security in case there aren’t enough teachers at schools.

If you’re just tuning back in to the news post-holidays, here are some of the main strike-related developments that played out in the past few weeks:

1. UTLA has agreed to meet with district negotiators this Monday.

UTLA is willing to revisit the bargaining table on Monday “if the district has a legitimate and clear offer for us to consider,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. The district has said it welcomes further talks.

In order to make any progress, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told KPCC on Thursday that the district has to “start with proposals that indicate a basic willingness to stand up for district students, the district itself and district educators.”

”We know that there’s going to be a compromise at the end of the day, but big ticket items” like class size, staffing and limiting standardized testing “are pretty foundational, along with charter accountability,” Caputo-Pearl said.

L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner told KPCC on Wednesday that the district “has continued to revise its offer” to the union. Beutner added that UTLA needs to acknowledge the district’s financial constraints and be a more collaborative bargaining partner, rather than just saying “no” to proposals they don’t like — namely, how to rewrite policy on class sizes.

“Put [suggestions] in writing, tell us what you’d like to do,” Beutner said. “But we have to step away from the rhetoric and start dealing with facts.”

2. Both sides in December disputed the facts — and whether there was a new offer.

In December, a neutral state-appointed mediator released a non-binding fact-finding report — the last step in the labor negotiations process before the union could legally strike.

The three members on the panel agreed that the union should accept the district’s 6 percent salary raise proposal: 3 percent retroactive for 2017-18 and 3 percent for 2018-19. The report supported some of the union’s demands, including designating more funding to lower class sizes and to hire more nurses, counselors and librarians.

But the union’s leadership claimed UTLA had not agreed to a 6 percent raise. UTLA then announced the Jan. 10 strike date on Dec. 19 — the day after the report’s public release.

Beutner told KPCC on Wednesday that L.A. Unified had fruitlessly approached UTLA with an updated offer in late December. That updated offer, he noted, reflected numerous recommendations from the fact-finding report. For example, it dropped provisions such as making the 6 percent raise contingent on the addition of professional development hours for teachers. The district made other contract changes, outlined here.

“We all want the same set of things,” Beutner said. “The challenge is how do we do it with the resources we have.”

UTLA interpreted the exchange differently. It countered that it “isn’t refusing to bargain,” but rather didn’t believe what L.A. Unified sent — a chart in an email — constituted a formal contract offer. The union rejected the “so-called offer” Wednesday. It “was an unorthodox way to make a proposal,” Caputo-Pearl told KPCC.

3. L.A. Unified is pursuing a legal complaint to protect special needs students if there is a strike.

L.A. Unified announced Thursday it is pursuing a legal complaint to block UTLA members “who provid[e] educational services to LAUSD special education students” from striking, citing harm to those students and conflicts with mandates that protect special needs children.

The district’s court filing Thursday was a request to a federal judge to move forward with a formal complaint.

There are more than 60,000 special education students in L.A. Unified who could “suffer irreparable harm through the deprivation of services” during a work stoppage, the court filing reads. Children with unidentified disabilities would also “be delayed in being identified as eligible and be deprived of services and in, some instances, students with serious disabilities will be placed in extreme danger of injury.”

Special education students are protected by federal and state special-education laws. L.A. Unified’s special education services have also been monitored by a federal judge since 1996 and since 2003 under a Modified Consent Decree.

UTLA would be allowed to respond to the complaint “in the same manner as any defendant, by motion or Answer,” the court filing noted.

The union denounced the development Thursday as “a Hail Mary pass” that’s “using our most vulnerable students as pawns.”

“Going to federal court is a transparent attempt by LAUSD to bring the UTLA/LAUSD labor dispute into an arena where it doesn’t belong,” UTLA wrote.

“The fact that he [Beutner] is now singling out special education teachers shows how valuable they are to our most vulnerable students. We hope Beutner sees the error in this strategy and brings real proposals to support these teachers and students to our meeting with LAUSD on Monday.”

4. L.A. Unified has hired hundreds of substitute teachers in preparation for a strike.

The LA Daily News on Dec. 28 reported that L.A Unified has hired about 400 substitute teachers who would fill in during the work stoppage.

“We have a duty to provide an education to our students, and we will take appropriate measures to do so,” L.A. Unified officials said in a statement.

When asked by LA School Report on Wednesday if any more substitutes would be hired, a district spokeswoman responded, “We anticipate having 400 substitutes available [during the strike].” The spokeswoman confirmed that these substitutes are not part of the district’s estimated 2,000 credentialed, non-teaching staff, but she had no other information on how these substitutes would be dispersed across the district.

UTLA blasted the hiring news last week, claiming that it’s “irresponsible to think that 400 substitutes can educate more than 600,000 students.” It added that the union believes “it is illegal for the district to hire people outside our bargaining unit to teach in LAUSD classrooms.”

There are more than 2,000 substitute teachers who are part of UTLA, according to union officials. The district would not confirm if any of the substitute hires are affiliated with the union.

5. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl held a news conference to call for a cap on charter schools.

Two days after announcing a Jan. 10 strike date, Caputo-Pearl called for a cap on charter schools in L.A. Unified.

There are 224 independent charter schools in L.A. Unified serving about 110,000 students. In 2010, there were 69,000 students enrolled, according to district data. The union has repeatedly rebuked charters for luring students — and, therefore, millions in state funding — away from traditional public schools.

The call for a cap is not part of the formal union contract negotiations, but Caputo-Pearl said he is bringing it up because “it’s out there in the conversation right now.” UTLA’s proposed contract, however, calls for union involvement in the co-locations process, which is when charter schools are allotted unused classroom space on traditional school campuses under state law.

The district has denounced notions that education reform — like charter school growth — is a ploy to privatize and dismantle the public school system. “At no time has the Board of Education or Superintendent mentioned any support for ‘privatization,’” a site document reads.

6. L.A. Unified released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, showing massive debt liabilities.

One indication of a school district’s — or any company’s or entity’s — financial health is its unrestricted net position. For L.A. Unified, it’s deep in the red: the report revealed the district’s unrestricted net deficit nearly doubled from $10.9 billion to $19.6 billion between 2017 and 2018.

Reason Foundation education policy analyst Aaron Garth Smith explained it like this:

“The unrestricted net deficit reflects obligations that a district must pay out in future years using future district revenue, particularly as it relates to retiree health benefits and pension obligations for retirement plans. Unless a district sells some of its assets (e.g. buildings) the resources to pay this debt will be paid out of its operating budget that’s used for things such as teacher salaries and supplies. So, the greater the unrestricted net deficit the more dollars that will need to be diverted from classrooms and other operating expenditures in the future.”

Or, as state Sen. John Moorlach put it in an LA Daily News op-ed: It would take a $4,180 payment from every man, woman and child in the district to relieve L.A. Unified of its liabilities.

Though the state of California “is required to maintain the financial soundness of public school districts,” a $20 billion loan to L.A. Unified would “be tough to make,” Moorlach wrote. The state is anticipating a $15 billion budget surplus for the 2019-20 year, and reportedly has more than $13 billion in reserves.

While unrestricted net deficits haven’t been a central talking point during negotiations, the financial stability of L.A. Unified lies at the heart of the contract dispute. On one hand, the county has called L.A. Unified’s finances “alarming,” projecting its reserves to drop from $700 million next fall to $76.5 million in 2020-21 — barely over the 1 percent reserve required to stave off a county takeover. The union, conversely, claims L.A. Unified is hoarding money — “record-breaking” reserves nearing $2 billion — while class sizesballoon.

7. The Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News’ editorial boards spoke out against the strike. So did Obama’s former education secretary Arne Duncan.

A teacher strike “should be avoided if it is at all possible,” the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board wrote in a Dec. 20 op-ed. “The district has nothing to gain from a strike; parents fear it, and a walkout of even a couple of weeks could be devastating to students.”

The LA Daily News’ editorial board on Dec. 31 agreed, adding that “it’s not clear what a strike would accomplish beyond showing that the union is willing to disrupt the education of Los Angeles students.” It also said UTLA is downplaying “the fiscal realities of the district and instead argu[ing] for limits on charter schools and tax increases.”

Arne Duncan, former secretary of education under President Barack Obama, addressed the potential strike in Los Angeles in a Dec. 26 op-ed for The Hill while calling on California’s Democratic state leaders — like incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom — to lead on education and increase school funding. Sacramento provides 90 percent of districts’ funding.

“Los Angeles Unified has a budget crisis” and a strike will have a deep impact on Los Angeles’ most vulnerable students, he wrote. “Only the Democratic majority in California’s capital can truly solve the financial issues. … When adults fight, it’s kids that lose.”

8. Another California district, Oakland Unified, is getting closer to striking too.

A strike might not only be isolated to the state’s largest school district. The Oakland Unified School District as of late December is in the fact-finding phase after unsuccessful mediation between the district and the Oakland Education Association, according to EdSource. Oakland’s teachers union is much smaller than L.A. Unified, representing some 2,300 teachers. Teachers there are similarly calling for a salary increase and sizable cuts to class sizes.

Educators in Oakland and elsewhere have been “inspired” by UTLA’s teacher demonstrations, CALmatters reported. More than 200 teachers from a dozen local unions congregated in north Oakland on Dec. 15 — the same day UTLA held its March For Public Education — to support Los Angeles educators and strategize for more state education funding.

A rally is planned for Jan. 12 in Oakland.

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