Because business organizations opposed last month’s vote for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Measure EE tax, the Los Angeles mayor, union leaders and school officials say business betrayed students. That’s the message they sent by disinviting the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce from the L.A. Compact, a partnership aimed at presenting a united front on education issues, funding and work opportunities for students. In a letter telling the chamber to get lost, members of the Compact told the business organization, “The chamber has made clear that it is not a reliable partner to our schools.”
The letter signers said one of the goals of the Compact is to improve school funding and businesses opposed the school tax must be bad citizens. But there’s more than one way to secure school funding. Chief among them is for the school district to clean up its act financially and create savings, especially when it comes to reforming health care and pension issues.
Look for remedies other than the big tax increase from the signers of the disinvite letter and you’ll hardly hear a whisper.
Business knows how to manage a bottom line. Efficiencies, reforms and dealing with fiscal realities are what keep businesses alive. That is all the businesspeople asked the school district to do before rushing a tax increase to the ballot. Leaders of the business organizations opposed to the tax, which included the Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed), the Valley Industry and Commerce Association along with the L.A. Chamber and other business groups, all made it clear if the district supported reforms they would advocate for more taxes for schools, as they have in the past.
After Measure EE was badly defeated at the polls, VICA announced it wanted to work with the LAUSD to implement meaningful reform. Other business groups issued similar statements offering to work to improve the schools.
Apparently, that’s not the way the school establishment and the mayor’s office want to play the game. Remember that a chief aide for the mayor threatened the head of BizFed as the Measure EE campaign began, warning business if they want cooperation from City Hall on any number of issues, they should back off the campaign. Business resisted the threat.
Now the mayor and others say they don’t want to work with the business community any longer on school issues through the L.A. Compact.
Maybe business should take them up on it. It will be a reminder that business in Los Angeles does quite a bit that benefits schools. Taxes on business are an important part of the schools’ budget. Even more directly, business philanthropy for school functions and projects make an import difference in many students’ lives.
If schools and the mayor don’t want to work with business and business chooses not to work with schools, then the students suffer.
As someone who played a major role in helping get school construction funds for Los Angeles schools a quarter century ago, I know that bringing sides with different viewpoints together can work if the concerns of both sides are respected.
But, bullying from the mayor and the schools over the school funding has to stop. Then maybe they will listen to the need for reforms that will pave the way for increased efficiency and more funds for the schools.
Joel Fox is editor of Fox and Hounds Daily, which carries commentaries on the confluence of California business and politics. He is an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Public Policy and is well known as the longtime former president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He is a San Fernando Valley resident.