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It’s That Time of Year Again : Back to school means, in some circles, back to bickering

If it’s near the beginning of the school year, it must be time for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union to get into another squabble over salaries. Strike talk once again is in the air. How tiresome this game has become, and how dangerous.

It’s dangerous because parents (read: Lots of them are voters) don’t like having their children held as hostages at the bargaining table. And if those parent-voters, along with other voters, get disgusted enough with the public school system as it works now, they will be more likely to support school vouchers or breaking up the Los Angeles school district or other radical “solutions” to public education problems. If the district and its employees don’t want that, they had better start acting as if they don’t.

For starters, the district could exert some leadership by facing the fact that it must set priorities. It’s sad to have to remind the district that the education of children is the reason the school district exists. What taxpayers care most about is what goes on in the classroom. That point can get lost during heated union negotiations.

The district has seven different unions that it must work with, including United Teachers-Los Angeles. The school board is keenly aware that it must try to keep all of its employees happy--teachers, bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers. That’s good politics. But what makes for good politics doesn’t always make for good education. The teachers are the linchpin of the student learning process. When they are insecure and unhappy, they cannot be the educators that children--and society--need them to be.

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Los Angeles’ public schools have embarked on a crucial road to reform, in alliance with all those who support LEARN (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Reform Now). The key purpose of school reform is to get better academic results. Those improved results can’t occur without the support of a public that believes everyone in the district is acting in the best interests of the children. If the students’ interests get lost in the quest to play politics and satisfy constituencies, the kids will lose, and in the long run the district will too.


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