L.A. Teachers Strike Ends; Wins Smaller Classes For Students
Education, Features, Law and Politics, Municipal Government, National

L.A. Teachers Strike Ends; Wins Smaller Classes For Students

January 25, 2019

By Steve Wishnia

LOS ANGELES, Calif.—After a strike that lasted six school days, Los Angeles teachers reached a contract deal with the Los Angeles Unified School District Jan. 22.

LA teachers have a new three-year contract that strengthens public schools.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl told a press conference that evening that “a vast supermajority are voting yes for the agreement,” so teachers would end the strike and go back to schools in the morning. 

The three-year deal will run through 2022. It will raise teachers’ pay by 6% immediately, with half retroactive to the 2017-18 school year and half retroactive to July 1, 2018. A bigger issue for L.A. teachers, however, is that the system’s classes are among the most overcrowded in the country. The new contract will lower maximum class sizes by a total of four students by 2021-22, and immediately reduce English and math classes in secondary schools from 46 students to 39. It will also eliminate language “which had previously allowed the district to ignore all class-size averages and caps,” according to the UTLA. That clause, the union said, allowed more than 100 classes in kindergarten through third grade to exceed the limit of 27 pupils.

The UTLA called it “a historic agreement that addresses major issues impacting our schools, students and professions,” LAUSD said it will raise teachers’ pay, lower class sizes, and add “a significant number of librarians, counselors, and nurses” while maintaining “the fiscal solvency of the school district.”

The agreement addresses teachers’ demands for more support staff: The district will hire 150 nurses for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, enough to have a full-time nurse at every school five days a week. It will also hire 41 teacher librarians in each year, enough to have a full-time librarian at all secondary schools five days a week, and add at least 17 counselors by Oct. 1.

“It was never about the salary,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told MSNBC. “It was about how do we have the support that teachers need, that kids need?” 

The agreement’s approach to charter schools—a key issue for teachers, who feared that recently appointed district Superintendent Austin Beutner’s agenda was to increase the number of privately operated and largely nonunion charters at the expense of traditional public schools—is more nebulous, as many regulations affecting them are determined by the state. The LAUSD Board of Education agreed to urge the state to do a study on charter-authorization reform, and to have it put a cap on new charter schools in the district until it is finished. The district will also give UTLA a list of schools “threatened by colocation”—having to share their building with a charter—twice a year, with a union representative “empowered” to be part of developing the agreement governing sharing.

The LAUSD, which comprises schools in the city of Los Angeles and about 25 suburbs, kept schools open during the strike. It tried to cover the work of the more than 30,000 teachers who walked out with about 2,000 administrators and about 400 strikebreaker substitutes. But even with attendance less than one-third of a normal day, they were unable to offer much more than have students watch movies. 

Few of the district’s 2,000 union substitutes crossed the picket line. Irene Pineda told the Splinter Website that she was considering doing it because she hadn’t gotten any work in December and the district was offering her $42 an hour instead of the standard $31. But she said UTLA members “helped change my perspective by explaining all the things they were fighting for, including things that would help me if I chose to become a full-time educator, like smaller class sizes and just getting the district to spend money on hiring more teachers.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti intervened in the negotiations three days after the strike started Jan. 14, mediating sessions that lasted for more than 10 hours. As part of the deal, the mayor will endorse the Schools and Communities First ballot initiative to put a “parcel tax” on commercial property in the district, and he, the district, and UTLA will lobby both the state and county for more funding.

“We just said we’re not going to leave if we don’t get these things,” UTLA negotiator Irene Ayala told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “We showed the costs and there was money enough for the nurses, the counselors, the class sizes, and so forth.”

January 25, 2019

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