Friday, August 31, 2007

Healthy Families, Healthy Students?

On Tuesday, the Board of Education waded into a hefty discussion on health care. On its face, the resolution titled "Healthy Families, Healthy Students" and authored by several of my colleagues on the Board, was about ensuring that students have at least 20 minutes to eat lunch. In fact, it was really an effort to increase the hours that some 2,000 cafeteria workers from 3 ½ hours to 4 hours in order to make them eligible for health benefits. Board Member Tamar Galatzan and I voted against the resolution, which passed 5-2 and will cost the District $35 million annually. The truth is that the increase in hours will have no effect on the amount of time students have to eat lunch. What’s more, we already have plans – that we can afford – in place that move us to ensuring students have at least 20 minutes to eat their lunch.

The Board of Education recently adopted extended and multiple lunch periods as a strategy to increase students’ access to the cafeteria. We also began implementing the results of a Labor Organization Study which will increase 269 3 ½ -hour cafeteria worker positions to both five and six-hour positions. These and other operational changes will do more to increase the likelihood that our students have enough time to eat than a blanket increase in hours that disregards the individual needs of schools.

I absolutely understand my colleagues’ desire to provide health care to all our employees and I attempted to introduce an amendment that would have directed our negotiations team to work with the unions to provide scaled benefits for these part-time employees. Sadly, the Board voted down this amendment, leaving the Superintendent to present to the Board on September 4 an additional $35 million in cuts for this school year. Both the LA Times and the LA Daily News reported on this issue and the LA Times editorial board seems to agree that this was an irresponsible action.

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