Despite a new offer from LAUSD to add $130 million to lower class sizes and hire 1200 additional educators and nurses, negotiations between LAUSD and United Teacher Los Angeles ended in impasse Friday. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said that absent some surprise offer from LAUSD, “Get ready, because on Monday, we will be on strike.”
LAUSD implored UTLA to reconsider its decision to walk away from the table. “We are extremely disappointed that United Teachers Los Angeles has rejected Los Angeles Unified’s revised offer without proposing any counter offer,” the district said in a statement after talks broke down. “UTLA has refused to continue contract negotiations.”
The district is also formally asking Governor Gavin Newsom to intervene. “We need his help,” said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner. “We do not want a strike. We ask for his help now to resolve this so we can keep our schools open, we can keep kids safe and learning in school.”
The new offer LAUSD put forward Friday was in response to additional funding in Newsom’s budget proposal unveiled Thursday, as well as an additional $10 million the county is providing to beef up nursing and mental health services at schools. It would allow LAUSD to add a nurse five days a week at every elementary school. Most schools only have a nurse one day a week now.
LAUSD also offered to lower class sizes by two at every middle school and high school, cap the number of students in grades 4-6 at 35 students and add a counselor at every comprehensive high school. The district is also promising “no increase in any current class sizes.”
But the co-chair of UTLA’s bargaining team described the new offer as “insufficient” and “woefully inadequate” because the new hires were only guaranteed for one year. “That just doesn’t cut it.”
Beutner reiterated his frustration with UTLA’s lack of movement from what he described as $3 billion in demands that haven’t changed in nearly two years, which he said would instantly render the district insolvent.
“What is it UTLA wants to avoid a strike? We do not know," Beutner said. "We’ve done the best that we can. If they’ve decided to strike irrespective of what we offer, we’d like them to answer to the community how that helps students, how that helps families and how that helps educators.”
It’s been clear for weeks that there’s nothing LAUSD could possibly offer to prevent a strike. UTLA has amassed an army and fired up its troops for battle, which the union is framing as an historic fight for public education and against its competition from public nonprofit charter schools, most of which are non-union and therefore don’t line UTLA’s coffers.
The union has also framed it as a battle against Beutner, whom it has accused of intentionally starving schools of funding. But at the same time, many UTLA members are encouraging parents to keep kids home from school during a strike, which would actually starve schools of funding, given that revenue is based on attendance.
UTLA also continues to deny that LAUSD is in financial crisis, except, that is, when the union is scapegoating charters for being the cause of financial problems. That’s all part of UTLA’s strategy to divert attention from the true source of the district’s financial pain, a rise in retiree pension and healthcare costs, which could easily turn young teachers against the union for putting retirees’ needs first.
Because the debate appears to be more of a political and rhetorical battle over philosophy and control of the school Board and the superintendent, which the Board hires, there’s no clear way for LAUSD to satisfy the union through the traditional bargaining process.
Charter school leaders have largely remained silent amid an all-out rhetorical assault against their schools. But with increasing fears that UTLA members will picket and disrupt charter schools during the strike next week, the new president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, Myrna Castrejon, wrote an open letter to Caputo-Pearl asking him to stop pitting traditional district and charter parents, educators and kids against one another with an "us versus them mentality," which she fears is "dangerous."
“Alex, if you choose to strike…I ask you to ensure that words, demonstrations and actions are peaceful, civil and set a good example for the kids,” Castrejon wrote. “Please be kind to both our district and charter community."
She also asked UTLA to join CCSA to lobby for more money from Sacramento. “L.A. Unified’s financial crisis is real,” she wrote. “All California public schools need more money from the state so we can do more to support our most vulnerable students. That’s something we should march for together in Sacramento instead of fighting over the crumbs at home.”