By Nathan Solis
LOS ANGELES – On day two of the Los Angeles teacher strike, educators in red rallied outside a charter school’s headquarters on Tuesday to highlight their frustration over what they call the privatization of public schools.
The second largest school district in the nation said it lost approximately $25 million in state funding on Monday, the first day of the United Teachers of Los Angeles strike. But at a Tuesday morning press conference, LA Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner said the district saved $10 million because picketing teachers do not get paid, bringing the total loss for the district to $15 million.
“The painful truth is we don’t have enough money to do everything that UTLA is asking,” Beutner said. “The state and county, our regulators, have told us this repeatedly.”
Union members want the school district to use its $1.8 billion reserve to reduce class sizes, add nurses to every school campus and cap how much money charter schools receive across the district.
About 360,000 students at over 1,200 schools were absent Monday.
While nearly 20,000 union members, parents and students braved the rain to march to LAUSD headquarters on Monday, picketers decided to rally outside the Los Angeles offices of California Charter Schools Association on Tuesday.
Last December, UTLA members called for a cap on any new charter schools in the district, arguing the money that could go toward public schools ends up being used on privately run campuses.
In a statement, Charter Schools Association president Myrna Castrejón asked union representatives to not make the fight about pitting schools against each other.
“The funding pie can and should grow, but we know that LA Unified’s financial crisis is real,” said Castrejón, who also asked for peaceful demonstrations.
It was noisy, but a large swell of union members in red marched in Little Tokyo as the Latin rock and hip-hop group Ozomatli played a concert and educators marched through downtown Los Angeles.
Others rallied on street corners and the crowds spread out through the downtown core. Educators like Laura Bartholomew, Karin Grigsby and Morena Zelada from Toluca Lake Elementary School in North Hollywood carried signs with their school’s mascot wielding a lightsaber.
They said the strike is not about their pay.
Bartholomew said cutbacks in the district began in 2008 during the recession, but services that were cut were never restored. These include a full-time school nurse, counselors and teacher’s aides that are now shared by multiple classrooms.
Resources that would have once gone to public schools have been siphoned off by private charter schools, the teachers said.
“Our concern is that most of our school board and our superintendent have an agenda to privatize education,” said Bartholomew, who teaches first grade. “Part of this is the regulation of charter schools. They’re not held to the same standards that public schools are held to.
Zelada said special education teachers like herself only have a nurse available once a week, which means teachers are now required to administer medications.
Grigsby added: “I was trained a few weeks ago on how to administer an EpiPen. I have a student who has asthma and he might need his EpiPen and I’m nervous about that because I’m not a nurse, I’m a teacher.”
In the last decade, the number of charter schools has increased by 150 percent in California and show no signs of slowing down, according to the state Department of Education.
The union wants the district to use its reserve funding to help alleviate the exodus of students from public schools, but in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published on Tuesday Beutner said the district will need all of reserve funding – nearly $2 billion – to avoid insolvency.
This is the first strike in 30 years at LA Unified. The 1989 strike lasted nine days before a deal was reached.