Anyone who doubts the importance of putting the Los Angeles Unified School District’s fiscal house in order should check our coverage of higher education this week (see story, page 1; lists on pages 10, 18, 24 and 26).

Los Angeles is a treasure trove of colleges and universities. There are six state universities in Los Angeles County – and that’s just for openers, as our coverage shows.

Schools matter to the community of business, which stands to benefit enormously if the human capital of Los Angeles is afforded the chance to develop into a pipeline of educated talent.

The enormous assets that local colleges and universities represent is vastly diminished, however, when the K-12 educational system stumbles.

That brings us back to LAUSD, where Superintendent Austin Beutner has told the union that represents public-school teachers that the budget is structurally out of whack. He says the district is unable to grant the terms that leaders of the United Teachers Los Angeles seek in current negotiations.

The union leadership seems to think the district could readily meet its demands – that Beutner is crying with a loaf of bread under his arm.

Beutner recently told the Business Journal that he’d be happy to let union representatives analyze LAUSD’s financial standing. They can have their raises if they find the money, he said.

The union should take him up on the offer.

Both the union and LAUSD should publicize their respective analyses of the budget in plain language for all to see and understand.

This situation can be known and understood. And it’s likely that somewhere in the background lurks a request for a tax hike of some sort at some point – so why not begin making the case for one now?

Or perhaps we might avoid a new levy if LAUSD really is sandbagging on the budget and the union does find the money.

It shouldn’t be difficult or unduly expensive to find out. The cost of a team of financial analysts would be well worth the clarification either way. The price of an informational campaign for parents, students and taxpayers of all stripes would be a drop in the bucket compared to the financial toll of a teachers’ strike and its numerous obvious and indirect costs.

Here’s another challenge for both sides should United Teachers Los Angeles take Beutner up on the challenge: Please don’t tell us this is “all about the kids” – a phrase that it used too often with too little sincerity.

Yes, this is about the kids – but that’s not all. The union’s role is to represent its members, and the school district must remain fiscally solvent or face takeover by the state, which means a loss of local control.

Those are the two main masters of the moment. Neither side need apologize for that reality.

Both sides, meanwhile, must be satisfied with any settlement. That probably will require compromise before the focus can swing back onto the kids.

All those colleges are waiting.

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