By Nathan Solis
LOS ANGELES – The fifth day of the Los Angeles teacher strike began Friday with bargaining talks and a union rally, capping off a tumultuous week for parents, students and educators.
Nearly 30,000 teachers and union members walked out of classrooms Monday in a strike seeking reductions in classroom size, caps on charter school spending and growth, and more nurses, librarians and other staff at Los Angeles Unified School District. Emotions ran high as teachers ended the week on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, where bargaining talks were set to resume Friday.
Tanya Dennis, an intervention support coordinator from West Vernon Elementary School in South Los Angeles who meets with students who perform under their grade level, at one point in her career taught multiple grades at once, with separate lesson plans and subjects.
“It’s not about the pay increase for teachers. It’s hard to teach, to provide instruction to students in that type of environment,” Dennis said. “But I love my kids. That’s why I’m here.”
Students at over 1,200 schools who have been caught in the middle of the stalled bargaining talks joined the picket lines while others have gone to empty classrooms.
Eighth-grade student Saleen Aguilar from George Washington Middle School in South Los Angeles paused a moment when asked to summarize the last week.
“It’s been stressful,” Aguilar said. “We didn’t have a lot of support at our school on the first day for the strike and it built up. I’m hopeful for the strike because it’s not fair to students to do this.”
Fifth-grade teacher Christina Machado at Sally Ride Elementary School in South Los Angeles said she spends about $400 at the beginning of each school year to buy supplies for her classroom.
“Honestly, I’m not even calculating it because it’s going to be extremely high,” said Machado, who added that although she’s single, she has a Costco membership to buy paper towels and other basic supplies for her students.
“I know it’s a choice I make to provide for my students but those are things that any human would need. We are not a third-world country,” Machado said. “We should not have to worry about where our paper towels are going to come from.”
Third-grade teacher Gloria Wong from Eagle Rock Elementary School would rather have been in the classroom Friday, but she joined the picket line at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles because she’s invested in public schools and worries too much funding is going toward charter schools that have gone unchecked.
“Charter schools are unregulated compared to public schools,” Wong said. “They don’t follow special education compliance and many of the students who go to the charter schools end up coming back. And because they’re unregulated they get closed without warning to parents.”
Along with a cap on the number of charter schools, the union has demanded the school district use its nearly $2 billion in reserves to cut down class sizes.
But LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the school district will become insolvent if it does not save that money in a rainy day fund.
Meanwhile, LAUSD student board member Tyler Okeke said the district’s financial problems are exacerbated by teacher pensions, cost of living increases and not enough state funding.
The United Teachers of Los Angeles resumed bargaining talks with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Thursday and worked until early Friday morning, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.