By JAMES GAGE | Reporter
Despite a torrential downpour on Monday morning, teachers and supporters huddled under umbrellas, clutching signs with messages like “We Stand with LA Teachers” and “On Strike for Our Students,” as Los Angeles teachers went on strike for the first time in 30 years.
The strike affects several schools in Pacific Palisades, including Palisades Charter Elementary School, Marquez Charter Elementary School, Canyon Charter Elementary School and Paul Revere Charter Middle School. The strike will also have an effect on co-curricular activities. (Palisades Charter High School is fiscally independent and not affected.)
Over 31,000 teachers that are part of the United Teachers of Los Angeles agreed to walk out on Monday, January 14, as nearly 20-month-long negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District deteriorated over the preceding week. Teachers have been working without a contract for almost one year.
The strike kicked off with 50,000 supporters marching from City Hall to LAUSD headquarters on South Beaudry Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.
Out of the 640,000 students in the district, only 144,000, roughly one-third, attended school on Monday. Because state funding is driven by attendance, one day of teachers striking—minus $10 million in their unpaid wages—cost the district a total of $15 million.
UTLA is demanding smaller classroom sizes, more full-time support staff like nurses, librarians and counselors, and an overall 6.5 percent raise in salaries with retroactive pay back to fiscal 2017 to be funded from the district’s $1.86 billion in reserves.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, a former investment banker and Palisadian, argues that the district, operating at a $350 million deficit each year due to declining enrollment (12,000 students per year), is simply unable to meet UTLA’s demands.
In negotiations last Friday, January 11, LAUSD offered a capitulatory $130 million investment in the 2019-20 school year, which would have allowed for 1,200 more educators and reduced class sizes in middle and high schools by two students per class.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, UTLA declined the offer. LAUSD tweeted on January 11: “We are extremely disappointed that UTLA has rejected @LASchools revised offer without proposing any counter offer. UTLA has refused to continue contract negotiations. More than 48 hours remain until Monday when UTLA plans to strike, and we implore UTLA to reconsider.”
Negotiations did not take place over the weekend. UTLA’s proposals have not changed since April 2017, when negotiations between the two organizations began. Schools will remain open during the strike, and LAUSD has hired an army of substitute teachers to cross the picket line.
“No matter what you believe, or what side of this contract dispute you fall on, one thing is clear: Parents, teachers and community members in LA Unified are standing up for the future of public education in our city,” LA Unified Board of Education District 4 Vice President Nick Melvoin said in a statement.
“I am always proud to see people, especially students, get engaged and take part in displays of activism. I would love to see this type of activism directed at Sacramento, where 90 percent of our district’s funding comes from.”
Melvoin expressed that he hoped UTLA would return to the negotiating table soon, adding that it was unfortunate that there have been no negotiations since Friday “due to their unwillingness to talk.”
“We want to reach an agreement, end the strike and focus our efforts collectively on a revenue strategy that puts more money and resources back into our classrooms where they belong,” Melvoin continued. “The state of California is the fifth largest economy in the world, but ranks 43rd in national per-pupil spending.
“We are ready to put more money toward class size reductions and adding more nurses, counselors and librarians in our schools. But we can’t spend money we don’t have.”
Melvoin reported that the district has been in communication with the mayor and governor’s team to help get UTLA back to the table to continue negotiations.
“We are ready and willing to continue talks anytime and anywhere, so we can resolve this and get our kids back in the classroom and learning from our valuable teachers,” Melvoin stated.
No new negotiations between UTLA and the district have been scheduled as the Post went to print.