The New Haven Unified School District teachers’ strike has moved into its third week. We are troubled this subject is not dominating discussion in the legislature.
Teachers in New Haven are striking for the same reason teachers walked out in Oakland and LA earlier this year: Increases in school district revenues are not translating into increases in salary.
School districts should have more than enough money to provide raises. They’ve been the beneficiaries of a 60 percent increase in state spending since 2010. Spending per student is expected to exceed $17,000 in the budget year:
But increased spending on pensions and other retirement costs is soaking up the new revenue:
Leaving less for teacher salary increases:
The district reports no students in charter schools:
And while district enrollment declined 10 percent since 2013–14, district revenues from state and local funding still climbed more than 25 percent.
New Haven’s pension costs are exploding because state officials were too afraid of special interests to boost pension contributions in 2006. Had they done so then there would be no pension crisis now. But they didn’t — and now the solutions are hard. Even a 30 percent tax increase and 10 year bull market didn’t work. Another tax increase and bull market also won’t solve the problem. That’s because our pension liabilities are huge and accreting at a high rate.
Unless you reform retirement costs, new money will continue not to reach teachers. At some point New Haven’s strike will end, but because of retirement spending it’ll be a temporary ending, just as in LA and Oakland. Neither teachers nor the district will be happy, and schoolchildren will continue to lose — just as in SacCity, another district about which you’re not talking even though it’s issuing layoff notices (in reverse seniority pursuant to the Education Code you write) because it too isn’t reforming retirement spending.
You can’t blame the teachers or the district. They are trapped in a vise. To release them you will have to empower and encourage school districts to suspend automatic pension increases, reduce unaccrued pension rates relating to years not yet worked, and means-test retiree health insurance subsidies. That will free up money for more staffing and raises.
Teachers need salary increases, students need to be in classes, and legislators need to liberate school districts from unfunded obligations that, in the words of French economist Thomas Piketty, “devour the future.”
Govern For California supports lawmakers who legislate in the general interest.