30,000 Los Angeles Teachers Go on Strike

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(KNX 1070/CNS/AP) -  As the rain starts coming down, LA teachers begin to picket in the first teachers’strike Los Angeles Unified has had in 30 years.

Some 30,000 teachers from more than 1,000 schools began the strike Monday amid contract disputes with LAUSD. 

LAUSD  also held a press conference Monday, asking UTLA to resume negotiations. 

Meanwhile, there were huge crowds in downtown Los Angeles where teachers held a march and rally. The UTLA has rejected the latest contract offer from the LA School District and the union says that no new contract talks are scheduled over the weekend.

Thousands of teachers staffed picket lines in the rain today at the beginning of the first teachers strike targeting the Los Angeles Unified School District in 30 years, while administrators vowed to keep schools open using substitutes and district employees with teaching credentials.

"We are here for the kids, to try to get the district to understand that our classes are too large," one teacher said, as he held an umbrella to ward off rain. "We need more help in the classrooms, we need more help in the offices. We need nurses paid for at every school, and we had no choice. We don't want to be out here; I'd rather be in my classroom. But that's where it's gotten, and we'll be out here as long as we need to be."

At a 7:30 a.m. news conference, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl addressed fellow union members, parents and students at John Marshall High School, 3939 Tracy St., where picketing began about the same time.

"Here we are on a rainy day in the richest country in the world, in the richest state in the country, in a state that's blue as it can be -- and in a city rife with millionaires -- where teachers have to go on strike to get the basics for our students," Caputo-Pearl said.

"Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education," Caputo- Pearl said. "The question is: do we starve our public neighborhood schools so that they (become) privatized, or do we re-invest in our public neighborhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?"

At a news conference on Sunday, UTLA Secretary and negotiations team co-chair Ilene Inouye placed the blame for the impasse squarely on LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner.

Before the work stoppage began, LAUSD officials expressed disappointment with UTLA's strike plans and reminded parents that the district's schools will remain open. State preschool sites will be closed, and early education centers will be open for students with special needs.

"We are extremely disappointed that UTLA has rejected @LASchools revised offer without proposing any counter offer," District officials said on Friday after making their last offer. "UTLA has refused to continue contract negotiations. ... We implore UTLA to reconsider. A strike will harm the students, families and communities we serve, and we have a responsibility to resolve the situation without a strike."

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janice Hahn announced Sunday that she will picket today with striking UTLA members at Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes.

A rally and march is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday starting at Grand Park on Spring Street in front of City Hall, heading downtown to LAUSD headquarters, 333 South Beaudry Ave. More picketing by teachers, parents and students is set for between 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in front of Marianna Avenue Elementary School, 4215 Gleason St. union officials said.

The proceedings will wrap up with a 5 p.m. news conference at UTLA headquarters at 3303 Wilshire Blvd., organizers said. UTLA said it will stream most events live on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

UTLA and District negotiators met behind closed doors for about four hours Friday afternoon, but made no progress in contract talks.

In the midst of the session, Beutner held a news conference to announce the District's latest contract offer. Union officials criticized the move, saying Beutner gave the proposal to the media before presenting it to the UTLA negotiating team and never actually attended the bargaining session.

Beutner said the revised offer was crafted after Gov. Gavin Newsom released a proposed 2019-20 budget increasing public education spending. The District's contract proposal is a roughly $24 million increase from the its previous offer, with $10 million expected to come from the county and the rest anticipated through the state budget process, Beutner said.

The proposal would add 1,200 new teachers for the upcoming school year, which is an increase from the District's previous offer of 1,000, and would help reduce and cap class sizes, Beutner said, adding the District likely won't be able to offer much more, given the LAUSD's financial constraints.

"This represents the best we can do, recognizing that it is our obligation to provide as much resources as possible to support out students in each and every one of our schools," Beutner said.

According to Beutner, the funds would cap middle and high school English/math classes at 39 students, cap grades four through six at 35 students and maintain all other existing class sizes. He also said the funds would provide library services at every middle school, nursing services at all elementary schools five days a week and add an academic counselor at every comprehensive high school.

 UTLA bargaining chair Arlene Inouye said the union was "insulted" by the District's "woefully inadequate" offer, saying the new hires in the proposal would only be budgeted for one year.

Reducing class sizes has been one of UTLA's demands, although disagreements about a pay raise, the staffing level of nurses, counselors and librarians, and other issues have also been areas of conflict in more than two years of contract negotiations. Underlying the talks is the issue of privately operated charter schools -- which are governed by state law. The union has decried Charters for bleeding away students and money from the District, and has accused Beutner of working to vastly expand the number of Charter schools.

Union officials have said that adding 1,000 teachers, or even 1,200 teachers, would have a minimal impact in a District with more than 1,000 campuses.

The budget Newsom released Thursday would spend a record $80.7 billion on kindergarten through 12th grade schools and community colleges, up from the roughly $78 billion included in the previous spending plan.

The LAUSD has offered teachers a 6 percent raise spread over the first two years of a three-year contract while UTLA wants a 6.5 percent raise that would take effect all at once and a year sooner, and it claims the District's proposed salary hike would be contingent on benefit cuts for future union members.

UTLA also says it wants "fully staffed" schools with more nurses, librarians and counselors added to the payrolls, along with pledges to reduce class sizes.

The union has repeatedly pointed to what it calls a $1.8 billion District reserve fund, claiming there is more than enough money for widespread hiring of teachers and school staff.

But Beutner said the reserve has already been fully earmarked, including for the potential raises for teachers. He argued UTLA's demands would push the District into insolvency and cost around $3 billion.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Office of Education appointed a team of fiscal experts to work with the District to develop a fiscal stabilization plan. The office has the power to take over financial decisions from the LAUSD school board, and threatened late last year that it may do so if the District's finances don't improve.

Beutner said the county's move means it believes LAUSD is on the "precipice" of financial insolvency. But UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl accused Beutner of orchestrating the county's involvement as a political ploy, insisting that the District has not faced a fiscal deficit in five years, and is not facing one now.

As the second largest school District in the nation, the LAUSD covers an area totaling 710 square miles and serves more than 694,000 students at 1,322 schools, although 216 schools are independent charter schools, most of which are staffed with non-union teachers who would not be affected by the strike. The District says about 500,000 students and 1,100 schools will be impacted by the walkout.

About 80 percent of the District's students come from low-income households and qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, and around 25 percent are learning English. The District says it intends to keep all of its schools open in the event of a strike while it also continues to serve around 1 million meals each day.

The District also says it intends to attempt to keep some instruction going for students during strike. Four hundred substitutes have been hired for the task and 2,000 administrators with teaching credentials have been reassigned. However, with more than 25,000 teachers expected to strike and at least 31,000 UTLA members set to walk out, the District is expected in many cases to do no more than supervise students during the day in auditoriums and other large spaces.

The District has established an information hotline for parents at (213) 443-1300 to answer questions about the planned strike and its possible impact.

The city of Los Angeles has established a web site at www.lamayor.org/StudentsAndFamilies, describing city resources available to students and parents during a strike.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said that while he is encouraging both sides to continue talking to avoid a strike, the city will bolster staffing and resources at city recreation centers, libraries and Family Source Centers in order "to support families with additional options."

The LA school district offered a new contract offer Friday, aimed at averting a teachers strike. Superintendent Austin Beutner said the proposal includes a $130 million in funding. 

The superintendent outlined a new deal Friday afternoon, which includes funding for reduced class size and provide more support for teachers. The LAUSD is now offering to spend an additional $130 million in the 2019-20 school year, an investment that will reduce high school and middle school classes sizes by two. 

The offer includes additional funding to reduce class sizes and provide more support for teachers, which comes hours after Governor Gavin Newsom released a proposed budget for 2019-20 that would increase spending for public education.Beutner says the offer is "the best we can do" given the district's financial constraints.

Beutner said the district is formally asking Governor ⁦Gavin Newsom⁩ for help in an ongoing contract dispute with the teachers union.

“We need his help to resolve this. We do not want a strike,” Beutner says.

United Teachers Los Angeles is threatening to direct its members to strike on Monday, and reducing class sizes has been one of its demands, although issues over a pay raise, charter schools, the staffing level of nurses, counselors and librarians have also been areas of conflict with the district in contract negotiations.

On Thursday, a judge gave the teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District the green light to begin their planned strike Monday, rejecting a bid by the district to obtain a temporary restraining order.

United Teachers Los Angeles settled on Monday as the time to launch the first strike at the LAUSD since 1989. The delay was in response to the district challenging Thursday's originally scheduled start time in court, contending it was not given an official 10-day notice, as state law requires.

A hearing on the notification issue was held Thursday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court, where Judge Mary H. Strobel ruled in favor of the teachers.

Caputo-Pearl said: "They want to starve our schools in order to justify cuts and justify handing more schools to privately run charter schools," he said.

Beutner said "we are spending every penny we have. 

They have heard from us, they have heard from the county, they have heard from the state and they have heard from the independent expert appointed by the state that we cannot afford everything they are asking for," he said.

SYMPATHY STRIKES

It's not just teachers who will be walking out on Monday if the Teachers Union and LA School District can't make a deal. SEIU99 said at least some of its workers will be staging sympathy strikes with the teachers at 10 of its campuses. 

"We represent teaching assistants, special education assistants, custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, and many other support staff," Blanca Gallegos said.

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Meanwhile, Los Angeles may see its first strike by charter school teachers next week if they don’t have a new contract by then.

The 80 or so teachers say if they don’t have an agreement by January 15 with the Accelerated Schools they’re hitting the picket line. One of their main sticking points has to do with high teacher turnover. They say it was 40 percent last year at Accelerated’s three schools.

The educators are represented by the same union as LA Unified teachers. If they walk Tuesday they say it would be the first time in LA and the second charter school teacher strike in the nation. 

On Wednesday, the union representing teachers in Los Angeles has postponed the start of a possible strike until Monday because of uncertainty over whether a judge would order a delay.

United Teachers Los Angeles previously said its 35,000 members would walk off the job Thursday. But a judge is considering whether the union gave proper notice in announcing the possible strike, and could have ordered teachers to wait.

Negotiations continued Wednesday over issues such as higher pay and smaller class sizes in the nation's second-largest school district.

UTLA says it believes it would have prevailed in court. The union decided to postpone the walkout to avoid confusion and allow teachers, parents and community members time to prepare. LAUSD didn't immediately comment.

It would be the first strike in the district in three decades.

The LA County of Office of Education has appointed a team of experts to try to help the school district get back on track financially. 

This is because LA Unified is projecting a 90 percent drop in its reserve levels over the next three years and because it doesn’t have a plan to staunch the bleeding to stop the deficit spending. The district at the moment has a $1.9 billion reserve fund. The teachers’ union says the district needs to tap into it. The superintendent says if LA unified meet the teachers’ demands, it could eventually go bankrupt. 

Leaders of the union representing Los Angeles Unified School District teachers and the district plan to meet Wednesday, one day after the LAUSD Board passed a proposal, despite some strong objections, that would make volunteering at schools a little easier because people won't have to have full background checks.

Talks with the LAUSD and teachers' union on Monday went nowhere. Bargaining didn’t work so Los Angeles teachers headed to court Tuesday to try to keep their strike plans on track. The teachers’ union met with district representatives to no avail.

The school board voted Tuesday to make it easier for parents to volunteer and help out during a strike by setting aside full Department of Justice background checks, and make sure volunteers are not registered sex offenders first. 

The plan was to go to court and settle the issue over whether the union gave the district proper notice of the strike.  

That’s what the union intends to do so that LA Unified can't go to court after the strike begins and use the argument to force teachers to return to work for a few more days. The teachers and former teachers say they need to do this. The teachers and their union insist the school district has this nearly $2 billion reserve and needs to tap into it. 

LAUSD said it brought forward a new proposal that would have added nearly 1,000 additional teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, which the union rejected. United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex-Caputo Pearl told reporters outside district headquarters that he had several problems with the proposal. UTLA has set a strike deadline of Thursday, but if the judge saids with the district, the walk-out cannot begin until Monday.

More than a half-million Los Angeles Unified students returned to class last Monday while the union representing their teachers goes back to the bargaining table with district labor negotiators. Both parties are meeting with hopes to avoid LAUSD's first teachers' strike since 1989.