Former LAUSD board member and teacher: The district is not going bankrupt

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Caitlin Plummer

Negotiations between LAUSD and teachers are continuing with no clear end in sight. Both sides seem unwilling to budge on key issues, like class size and staffing. Mayor Garcetti has offered to mediate the negotiations.

David Tokofsky, education strategist and former LAUSD school board member and teacher, says both sides have been talking past each other for months, nearly since Austin Beutner arrived as superintendent.

"I think they have to get real about their expectations and their language. The school district has been provoking by saying there’s no money, and perpetuating this story that there’s a fiscal cliff in three years and the system is going to go bankrupt. And the union has found $1.8 billion and has used that figure. But it’s safer to see that number as half of that,” he says.

Tokofsky points out that some of the $1.8 billion is going toward teachers’ pay raises and other matters, but the district makes it seem as if none of the money is available.

Tokofsky is confident that the district is not going bankrupt. He says that for the 12 years he was at LAUSD, talk of bankruptcy was constant. He cites a moment in 2008 when the district faced a budget crisis and massive layoffs.  At the time, President Obama provided more than $1 billion in rescue funds. Governor Brown has also brought money into schools through propositions. “So I don’t buy this ‘we’re all going to fall off the cliff’ rhetoric,’” he says.

When it comes to class sizes, Tokofsky believes the district could reduce sizes in fourth and fifth grades by eight kids.

The other big sticking point is charter schools.

This week, teachers marched at the charter school headquarters. It seems like an impasse, but Tokofsky says there must be a way to increase district involvement in creating charter schools.

For example, if someone wanted to create a charter school focusing on science, they could hypothetically go to the district first and ask them for help.

But Tokofsky says that’s not how it currently works. “Instead everybody sends them to the charter office, and three months later, they come out of the intestine of the charter office, and they're a charter school, and they take revenue from the general fund.”

Tokofsky doesn’t think the strike will be settled any time soon and could even go on through next week.