In a stunning rebuke to the United Teachers Los Angeles union, the state-appointed neutral fact finder appointed to help resolve LAUSD’s labor dispute has endorsed most of the major details of LAUSD’s recent offers on salary and class sizes as the path forward to prevent a strike.
The fact finder confirmed that LAUSD is facing a large deficit and suggested that UTLA accept LAUSD’s offer of a 6 percent raise, as well as LAUSD’s September offer to devote additional funds to lowering class sizes and hiring more nurses, counselors and librarians. LAUSD has offered $30 million to do that at the highest needs schools, but UTLA has instantly rejected all of LAUSD’s offers to date.
“The report says Los Angeles Unified’s offer of 6 percent is appropriate,” said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who suggested that UTLA agreed because the union’s representative on the fact-finding panel wrote “I concur” with the recommendation. “The rest of the report confirms what Los Angeles Unified has already offered UTLA...We believe the path forward is clear, and the neutral fact finder has told us the path forward is clear. Six percent is fair.”
The neutral fact finding report also said UTLA’s class size “demands at this point are expensive." The report endorsed part of LAUSD’s October offer to work together with UTLA to develop a new class size plan.
Beutner agreed that class sizes are too big but pointed out that things are even worse at all but one of the 10 largest districts in the state. “Class size is an issue across California,” he said. “In comparison with the other 10 large districts across the state, we’re not so bad.”
After dissecting the neutral fact finder’s report, Beutner called on UTLA to cut a deal and settle the dispute now without the pain of a strike, which UTLA has threatened for mid-January unless all its demands are met. Beutner said he would be available “24-7” over the holidays to reach a settlement agreement to protect LAUSD’s kids. “We hope UTLA will join us at the bargaining table to resolve this.”
Meeting UTLA’s demands as they stand now would probably be unlawful, Beutner added. They would cost about $900 million and would instantly lead to more than 10,000 layoffs or a state takeover. “What UTLA has proposed as a take it or leave it would leave the district insolvent today,” Beutner said. “We would immediately become a ward of the state. I don’t know if lawfully the Board could even approve that.”
Following the release of the fact-finding report, Beutner said the ball is now entirely in UTLA’s court, and if the union is still set on striking, no matter what, and harming impoverished LAUSD children, there is nothing he or anyone else can do to stop them from going down that destructive path.
“UTLA is the only party that can authorize a strike,” Beutner said. “If they believe a strike somehow provides a better solution, if they believe a strike does not impact our communities, then there will be a strike because UTLA controls that. But the consequence of a strike is not trivial…This isn’t a game. This is serious.”
While schools will remain open, low-income families would be forced to decide whether to cross picket lines just get their kids fed, Beutner said. “We serve the needs of almost 20,000 students who are homeless. Where will they eat? Where will they find a safe place to use the restroom? We serve over a million meals to 400,000 students living in poverty. How will we replace the lost learning of our students?”
Make no mistake, he said: A strike would harm kids and families. “Don’t tell me that you’re acting in the interest of students,” he said. “Don’t tell me that a crisis helps families living in poverty. It does not.”
He also disputed the notion that a local strike would change LAUSD’s funding crunch because the state controls the funding, not the district. “A strike against Los Angeles Unified will not change our funding one nickel,” he said.
Instead of a strike, the fact finder urged the two sides to work together to “develop a joint fundraising plan,” to increase revenue through a parcel tax or more state revenue. Both LAUSD and Speak UP have been calling on all parties to work together to push for more state funding, although UTLA has been arguing that LAUSD is flush with cash -- undermining the argument that we need more.
Every labor union except UTLA is currently working with LAUSD to develop a plan to increase funding, Beutner said. And he explained how LAUSD is using its $1.8 billion reserves -- disputing the notion that LAUSD is somehow sitting on a pile of cash that can be used to meet UTLA demands.
“We are spending all of the reserves that we have,” Beutner said. “We’re not saving them. We’re not hiding them. We’re spending them…We’re spending it pretty fast.”
Beutner pointed to a chart showing how the reserves have been budgeted for employee raises -- including the proposed 6 percent for UTLA members -- on hiring additional counselors, nurses and librarians, “on students most in need, as prescribed by law” and “at school sites, as our principals decide what best serves the needs of our students.”
The fact finder’s report expressed a degree of exasperation at the lack of progress in talks between the two sides, citing “almost no progress made on any issue" in more than a year. Rarely are fact finders asked to resolve more than 21 articles in dispute, making it “particularly difficult,” the report said.
The fact finder urged both sides to drop some of the less significant demands or to pilot certain proposals at a few schools. That includes LAUSD’s demand to add a “highly effective” tier to teacher evaluations, which the fact finder suggested should be piloted. The fact finder also urged UTLA to drop demands for shared decision-making at the district, which would curb the number of magnet schools. The report said those demands “represent a significant departure from prior practices.”
Beutner pointed to intransigence and bad-faith bargaining by UTLA as the reason for the large number of unresolved issues. He quoted the mediator – a former teachers union head -- that had been assigned to help reach an agreement before the parties went to fact finding: “I’ve never seen one party so willing to work so hard to try to resolve the situation [LAUSD] and one party [UTLA] absolutely unwilling to engage.”
Beutner also addressed the false and demonizing UTLA rhetoric being spewed at him personally. “There are some non-truths shared about this situation, starting with my first day on the job,” Beutner said. “Much to my wife’s surprise, I was called a billionaire Scientologist -- neither of which are true…The rhetoric doesn’t help us. The rhetoric isn’t going to solve these issues.”
Board President Monica Garcia said teachers and the district should be “modeling for children how we resolve issues…We do not want to see a strike in Los Angeles that hurts our children and families, and we know we are stronger when we work together. There is a path forward, and the time is now.”
Beutner said he reached out to UTLA Tuesday morning, as well as to Mayor Eric Garcetti, asking him to help settle the dispute. The mayor has offered to do so before, but UTLA has rejected Garcetti’s help.
Even though the UTLA-appointed member of the fact-finding accepted the 6 percent salary recommendation in the report, UTLA late Tuesday said that “no agreement — salary or otherwise — has been reached between UTLA and LAUSD,” and the union accused Beutner of lying and “intentionally starving our schools.”
Nevertheless, Beutner said he wants to make a deal. “We would like to meet and continue bargaining,” Beutner said. “It takes two to bargain…The path forward is for us to collaborate. We want to resolve this.”
*This story has been updated to reflect UTLA’s response.