The Rube Goldberg that Los Angeles Has Tragically Become (CharterFolk, This Too Shall Pass)

Good evening, CharterFolk.

Thanks to those of you who reached out to me about Saturday’s post regarding developments in Houston.

In that post, I said in the coming days I’d try to spin off a series of columns diving into different places across the country. Today we head to Los Angeles. Next comes Philadelphia. I’ll wrap up trying to get to a couple red-state contexts.

Let’s get on to the LA post now.

The Rube Goldberg that Los Angeles Has Tragically Become (CharterFolk, This Too Shall Pass)

Reporting coming out of Los Angeles suggests that, despite parents feeling blindsided …

… and despite last minute negotiations taking place …

…the strike still appears to be on.

CharterFolk know how fast dynamics on the ground can change in situations like these, but whether the strike is quickly settled or drags on for months, as I wrote earlier this year …

… ironies abound.

Here we have a board of education that is now under the control of the teachers union …

… which has hand-picked its board president.

Not long ago, that very person described herself to be “absolutely confident” that a strike would be avoided.

Are you confident that the budget you’re going to craft can accommodate demands from the labor unions? Let’s start with the service workers. 

I am absolutely confident that we will conclude successful negotiations with all our bargaining units [including UTLA and SEIU Local 99], in probably the next four to six weeks — without any strikes or work stoppages.

Now apparently, after round-the-clock efforts …

… she doesn’t seem so confident.

At the Wednesday morning press conference, school board President Jackie Goldberg — who earlier expressed optimism there would not be a strike — seemed less certain.

“It’s the first time since I’ve been doing this there has been no back and forth,” said Goldberg. “There was a statement of: ‘This is it. And that’s it.’ That’s not negotiations. Makes me very disappointed.”

Not so long ago, during the teacher strike of 2019, Goldberg appeared at a rally …

… wherein she proclaimed:

I will be at a school every morning and every afternoon with you.  And I will be with you all the way until I get on that board of education and we begin to turn this around.

Marching the picket lines four years ago …

… Goldberg said:

I am here because what teachers want students need.

You got that?

The way we get students what they need is by giving adults what they want.

This is how, Goldberg went on to explain, people working in the system express their love for students.

When teachers go on strike, when counsellors go on strike, when nurses go on strike, the students are the winners.  The students are the winners because we go on strike for them with great love in our hearts.

They express their love, literally, by not working.

By not teaching.

By denying kids a place to go to school.

It results in a circumstance where, amazingly, despite gargantuan societal effort to get kids more learning time this year in order to help compensate for Covid-era learning loss …

… effort supported by Goldberg herself no less …

Board member Jackie Goldberg said she had initially been against the proposed calendar because of uncertainty over the impact, but after learning more about the plan, was open to the experiment.

… despite all that, amazingly, the kids of Los Angeles are actually going to end up having even less learning time this year than normal.

At least it helps make sense of things.

You know all that rhetoric coming out of UTLA?

“There is no such thing as learning loss,” she responds when asked how her insistence on keeping L.A.’s schools mostly locked down over the last year and a half may have impacted the city’s 600,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students. “Our kids didn’t lose anything.”

And all their follow up advocacy thereafter?

All designed to ensure that kids got as little additional instructional time as possible?

You know what all that was, CharterFolk?

One big expression of love for students.

Because, apparently, the deepest expression of love we can offer kids is minimizing the amount of time they have in school.

What would be a great message for all to see, what would lay bare the reality of power dynamics in LAUSD, would be for Goldberg to follow through on the commitment she made to strikers back in 2019.

It would be for her to actually be there present at school sites every morning and every afternoon.

That way the public would finally get to see where LA Unified’s Board of Education really stands.

Instead, she’ll again take a less visible role.

A behind-closed-doors role.

The same one she played when she was last on the LAUSD board during a strike.

The one in 1989 that was recognized across the country for the chaos it created.

Where ultimately the board collapsed and gave UTLA essentially everything it wanted …

… setting up board elections a few weeks later that UTLA swept, with Goldberg being identified as the leader who most supported the union’s demands.

A month later, she was elected Board President.

A couple of years into implementing the agreement, the district teetered on the verge of financial collapse.

It required massive pay cuts and furloughs …

… sparking protests …

… and other theatrics including a staged funeral for public education.

Goldberg, though, timed her exit wisely, leaving the board before the bills came due.

These days Goldberg seems to be positioning herself to play the same role in resolving the strike that she did 34 years ago.

On the one hand, she presents the school district as being able to afford compensation levels that would make LA public school employees the highest paid in the nation.

“We have the resources to make this the best offer in the country in both [Service Employees International Union] and [United Teachers Los Angeles], the best offer in the entire nation — ongoing, not one-time — ongoing because we value our employees,” she said. (From the “24/7” LA Times article.)

On the other, she clearly understands deeply how imperiled the district’s finances actually are.

How would you describe the district’s financial health?

Well, on the macro level, not good. On the micro level, fine. 

On the macro level, we, every year, spend more than we receive. And the two areas which bust our budget, is special education — which is about a billion dollars from the general fund that should not have to come from the general fund — and are benefits paid to retirees. Both the healthcare benefits that we pay to retirees and pension benefits that we pay part of and that the employee pays part of. Both of those put us in a long-term situation of having to ultimately…not be able to do what we have done for many, many decades, which is to pay the existing bills and to keep putting off some of the things that we haven’t yet figured out how to rectify.
(From the “Q&A” article at The 74.)

It’s really an astonishing statement, an acknowledgement that the district’s finances are fundamentally compromised due to irresponsible decisions that were made decades ago.

It’s basically Jackie Goldberg II admitting that the problems she inherits were the making of Jackie Goldberg I.


Of any one person who is responsible for the predicament that Los Angeles Unified finds itself in today …

… whether that’s giving UTLA in 1987 the agency rights that allowed it to become a political behemoth strong enough to dominate school board elections ever since …

… or whether it was playing the dispositive role in approving grossly unsustainable financial agreements that have caused ever more harm to students as time has gone by …

… there is no single person who has played a bigger multi-decade role in bringing about the tragic state of Los Angeles Unified than Jackie Goldberg.

No one.

It’s why I make the following final point:

Some of you may be familiar with the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine.

It was re-popularized a decade back in a music video by Ok Go that was viewed 71 million times.

Rube Goldbergs are contraptions …

… that go through a long convoluted series …

… of twist and turns …

… to arrive at some ridiculous end.

When one looks at the history that is Los Angeles Unified …

When one sees the ridiculous end we’ve come to …

When one traces things back through all the convoluted steps …

… ironies abound.

One recognizes that a small number of crucial actions got everything else going.

Fateful decisions by a small number of immensely influential people got the dominoes falling.

Decisions whose adverse impacts were understood in advance but were allowed to go forward anyway with the rationale being that they were all just expressions of love for students.

Of any person who was there at the beginning, and got things going knowing full well what the consequences would mean for public education in Los Angeles …

… there is no one who pushed the little red truck forward more so than Jackie Goldberg.

It’s why everyone in our world should recognize the Rube Goldberg that the Los Angeles Unified School District has tragically become.

As the song goes, CharterFolk …

“… this too shall pass.”

Ultimately, there will be a reckoning for the school district.

And as that reckoning plays out, despite all the political challenges that will keep coming at charter schools ad infinitum, it is inevitable that the City of Los Angeles will turn to CharterFolk to take on an even greater role in improving public education for hundreds of thousands of students.

It’s why we forge on and build even more strength for the even greater challenges that are to come.