As LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles enter contract mediation Thursday, the district plans to make a final offer to give teachers 6 percent raises and reduce class sizes by four students at 75 elementary schools and 15 middle schools serving high-need kids.
The final offer would also address one issue that a recent Speak UP working group of parents and teachers called for: changing the types of classes that teachers can take to move up the pay scale to better address student learning needs. As it stands now, teachers can get pay raises for taking classes that have nothing to do with what they are teaching. LAUSD’s offer would align those classes to district priorities such as STEAM, bilingual education and early literacy.
But despite calls from parents to focus on improving the quality of teaching that kids receive, the final offer does not attempt to change any of the policies surrounding how often teachers are evaluated or policies that protect ineffective teachers, such as forcing schools to hire “must-place” teachers they don’t want.
“Unfortunately, this contract offer does not do enough to ensure that every student has a quality teacher in front of the classroom,” said Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude. “It would lock us into the status quo for another two years, leaving intact the parts of the contract that value seniority over teacher performance. Teachers and parents agree that regular and meaningful evaluations improve teacher quality and effectiveness. Teachers we work with feel unsupported when they don’t get that regular feedback. Teachers should not go five years without being evaluated, and no school should be forced to hire a teacher against their will. No one benefits from that situation.”
Parents showed up at the LAUSD Board meeting in force Tuesday, calling on the LAUSD Board to demand a teacher contract that addresses the issue of teacher quality, but also to avoid a strike. Board District 2 parent Vincenta Martinez said a strike “will be a crisis. Already in Los Angeles, too many children in our communities don’t get the education they deserve. This strike will only make things worse.”
While LAUSD has asked to add a fourth tier to evaluations recognizing highly effective teachers, parents pushed the Board to make bigger changes that would improve teaching quality. “Every child deserves great teachers, no matter the community they live in, but to make that happen, we have to have a contract that puts that goal as its core principle,” said Vickey Vaughn, a parent in Board District 1. “We want great teachers who get recognized for their work and who will go into the schools that need them the most. We want to make sure that ineffective teachers don’t stay in classrooms with kids. We want teachers to be evaluated in a real way, and if they need support, to get support.”
Speak UP Director Of Operations Daphne Radfar presented to the Board preliminary findings from its parent-teacher working group that collaborated on a vision for a contract that values teachers and puts kids first.
“Teachers and parents agreed that seniority alone should not be the single most important factor that determines compensation scales, displacements and layoffs, school and classroom assignments, or leadership roles,” Radfar said. “The parents and teachers in our group believe that LAUSD teachers should be evaluated and given constructive and meaningful feedback at least once a year…We agree that teacher compensation should be tied to performance, and that excellent teachers should be rewarded for their excellence.”
Judging from the LAUSD final offer, however, the district appears to be shying away from pushing the envelope on big issues related to teacher quality. The class size reduction would lead to the hiring of additional teachers in some of the highest-need schools.
The district offer is for 6 percent raises (3 percent retroactive to last school year and 3 percent this year). The contract would be in effect until 2020. The LAUSD offer would also align the eligibility requirements for free lifetime health benefits with the other employee unions, making employees eligible when their age and years of service add up to 87 rather than the current 85.
One additional provision that LAUSD is putting on the table in its final offer: for LAUSD and UTLA to work together to provide a summary of what’s in the contract in plain enough language for parents and community members to understand. It’s an attempt to provide the public with an agreed-upon set of facts, which have been hard to come by during the negotiations, and to allow parents to have greater access to the negotiation process.
Hours after LAUSD released details of its offer, UTLA rejected it outright, calling it “insulting,” which means a painful strike could be weeks away.