By Martin Macias Jr. and Nathan Solis
The Los Angeles public school teachers’ union rejected the district’s latest labor contract offer Friday after a fruitless bargaining session ended, and walked off the job Monday morning.
Rain fell on more than 30,000 Los Angeles Unified School District educators as they picketed and marched outside classrooms and schools Monday, the first day of a strike demanding class size reductions, more social workers and librarians and better pay for teachers at the nation’s second-largest public school district.
It is the first LA teachers strike in 30 years.
District officials said in a statement Friday that its revised offer, centered on a $130 million budget increase for the upcoming school year, would add 1,200 more educators, nurses and librarians to schools and reduce class size by two students in all middle and high schools.
The district statement, which had previously proposed a $105 million increase and 6 percent salary increase plus back pay for 2018, added that it wants to avoid a strike but can’t afford the contract demands from United Teachers Los Angeles.
“UTLA’s contract demands have remained essentially unchanged since April 2017, and those demands would bankrupt Los Angeles Unified,” the district said, adding that the union refuses to continue negotiations and hasn’t proposed a counteroffer.
But UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a press conference Friday that the district’s latest offer won’t end the strike threat since its only valid for one year.
The union wants the district to use its $1.8 billion reserve to reduce class sizes, add nurses to every school campus and cap the amount of public dollars that benefit charter schools across the district.
The district hasn’t answered requests for key reports backing up figures for the latest offer, but the union would be receptive of any district proposal from now until Monday if it is “demonstrably different,” Caputo-Pearl said.
Barring anything short of a surprise from the district, Caputo-Pearl urged teachers and their allies to “get ready because come Monday, we will be on strike.”
In a statement, the district said it was disappointed by the union’s rejection.
“More than 48 hours remain until Monday when UTLA plans to strike, and we implore UTLA to reconsider,” the statement said. “A strike will harm the students, families and communities we serve, and we have a responsibility to resolve the situation without a strike.”
More than 30,000 public school teachers are expected to join the picket lines en masse across the city Monday, the first time since 1989 that educators in Los Angeles have done so.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has offered to mediate negotiations or provide neutral space to both parties, said in a statement that he was disappointed by Friday’s bargaining result.
“I am disappointed that today’s discussions have ended and I strongly urge both parties to consider returning to the negotiating table for talks over the weekend for the sake of our children, our teachers, and our schools,” the mayor said, adding that city resources would be extended to families during the strike.
The city will extend hours for 32 public recreation centers and libraries that will also provide lunch and adult supervision to students until the union reaches an agreement with the district. Parents must sign up to access the programs.
With more than 700,000 students across 10,000 schools affected by the strike, Garcetti said that public transit systems will also provide free transportation from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. to students who show their school IDs.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said at a press conference earlier in the day that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has offered to use $10 million in county funds to ensure that all public schools have nurses on campus five days a week.
“If the $10 million is there now, it will be there in three weeks after we resolve the disputes here,” Caputo-Pearl said.
The district’s revised offer was backed by news that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2019-20 budget would include a $3 billion increase in statewide funding for public education.
“This impasse is disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families,” Newsome said in a statement Monday. “I strongly urge all parties to go back to the negotiating table and find an immediate path forward that puts kids back into classrooms and provides parents certainty.
“Last week, I submitted a budget to the Legislature that would make the largest ever investment in K through 12 education, help pay down billions in school district pension debt and provide substantial new funding for special education and early education,” Newsom said.
“The budget also makes substantial additional investments in counties and providers by supporting children experiencing mental illness and investing in homelessness services — all of which can translate into additional services and support for children served by LAUSD,” he said.
Though Beutner said he didn’t know how much of that money would be allocated for the district, Caputo-Pearl said Friday that California state budget office staffers have told him that the district would receive $140 million.
No negotiations were set for the weekend.
On Monday morning outside Benjamin Franklin High School, several students and teachers marched in the rain wearing rain slickers and ponchos and holding picket signs. Other students watched from inside the campus and took photos with their mobile phones.
Junior Abraham Merino, 16, said conditions in his classes are getting worse.
“Classes are getting packed,” Merino said. “In some classes there are desks lined to the wall. I’m out here for my education but my teachers deserve better. Us students deserve better.”
Monica Whalen, who teaches AP government at the high school, said about 90 percent of the school’s faculty walked out Monday. She said there is only one social worker for the school on top of counselors, but there are many issues students face – including homelessness, food uncertainty and other problems – students could discuss with more resources.
“With their status a lot of students are scared and they need a lot of support,” said Whalen. “There is only one social worker for the whole school. But it’s not enough.”
Outside Aldama Elementary School, third grade teacher Danis Cybulski said school funding gaps have deprived students of basic services. Aldama’s school nurse is only on campus twice a week and the librarian is on site every other week, Cybulski said.
“We’d like [a nurse] here every day,” Cybulski said. “Being K thru 5, [we teach] foundational reading. We need librarians and for kids to have access to books.”
The school’s psychologist, who is shared with another school, is typically on site only once a week and balances a massive caseload between both campuses, Cybulski added while taking cover from the rain under a canopy.
Cybulski, who called the district’s negotiating “shady and back-handed,” said she joined the picket line at 6 a.m. She noticed only a few district-hired substitute teachers on campus as most respected the picket line and did not enter the school.
Meanwhile in south Los Angeles, parent Tiffany Gardner, 33, joined the picket line with teachers on Monday.
Gardner’s 10-year-old son Isaiah was born with a chromosome abnormality and has a full-time nurse while he is at school. After being home-schooled for four years, Isaiah started fifth grade at 74th Street Elementary School but Gardner said the school was unprepared for her son’s needs and services.
“The school didn’t know what to do with him,” Gardner said.
Isaiah uses a program on an iPad to communicate with faculty, but Gardner said staff waited for almost a year for the device to arrive and were eventually locked out due to an error.
During a press conference leading up to the strike, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said, “There are ways to educate kids that don’t rely on a physical body.” But Gardner said the district’s reliance on computers to teach students does not fill her with confidence.
She also bristled at the school asking whether she would send her son to school during the strike.
“Of course, I can’t send him,” Gardner said. “I don’t want the teachers to be out of class, but I also know at the same time if students are sitting in those seats the district is being paid. My only way to fight is with empty seats.”