CCSA Responds to LA Times Story on Retirement Benefits

April 18, 2016

  • Print
The following is CCSA's response to the Los Angeles Times article "Retiree benefits become a flashpoint in the battle between charters and traditional schools." The story focused on a retirement plan offered at a single charter school, which used to be a traditional school.

L.A. Unified has a serious financial crisis on its hands. Its unfunded liability is $13.4 billion. That amounts to roughly $25,000 per student, which is more money than the district receives each year per student to educate them, so it's clear in which direction the district is headed. Instead of exploring the district's refusal to balance its own budget due to its unwavering allegiance to special interests, this article chooses to focus on a single charter school where various groups are squabbling over who will pay $4 million in retirement benefits. That is a drop in the bucket compared to the district's overall financial challenges. It's about time that the district and the media step back and get serious about the root causes of L.A. Unified's financial problems -- the main one being the tens of billions of dollars that the district has promised, but cannot actually afford to pay, in lifetime benefits to their employees and their spouses.

This article not only inflates the importance of retirement benefits at a single charter school, it misstates which teachers are being offered those benefits. The idea, according to the article, is that teachers at El Camino "would spend their careers in the charter school, but later transfer to LAUSD to qualify for the huge institution's retirement benefits." This simply is not true. The only teachers who might qualify to move to the district and earn retirement benefits there are teachers who had already taught at the district long enough to be vested there, but who left the district when their school converted to a charter school. Many of these teachers taught for 20 or 30 years at LAUSD. They can choose to return to the district within five years, under an agreement that the district itself agreed to, and ultimately retire from LAUSD. However, the majority of the teachers at El Camino will remain and retire from there, and the charter will be responsible for their roughly $40 million in retirement benefits, which far outweighs the $4 million at issue in the article.

The situation at El Camino might be interesting to a few people, but L.A. Unified's gaping fiscal hole is deeply important for everyone who cares about the future of Los Angeles. Instead of investigating a squabble over retirement benefits at one charter school, the L.A. Times might devote more reporting to L.A. Unified's ongoing and exceptionally irresponsible financial decision-making, particularly when it comes to financially unsustainable benefits, which if left unchecked will propel the district to insolvency, as the district's own internal financial reports have warned of for many years.