UTLA Vows to Stick With Talks, ‘Grind This Out Until We Get An Agreement’

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and his bargaining team

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and his bargaining team

As LAUSD and UTLA returned to the negotiating table Thursday, student attendance plummeted 37 percent from the day before to its lowest level yet, and the district’s net losses from the strike grew to $57 million.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl and Superintendent Austin Beutner met briefly with Mayor Eric Garcetti to set some ground rules Thursday, and then both men decided to delegate talks to their bargaining teams. The two sides continued to negotiate at City Hall, with the mayor’s staff mediating until shortly after midnight. Talks resume at 11 a.m. Friday and are expected to last through the weekend.

Caputo-Pearl said both sides had agreed to keep the details of the talks confidential, but the sticking points were over class sizes, charter co-locations and hiring. “I would not frame it as us being close to each other,” he said, but “we’ve made an agreement to grind this out until we get an agreement.”

While a group of UTLA-backed protestors continued to show up at the private homes of Beutner and Board Member Richard Vladovic Thursday night, UTLA did not broadcast the protests on its Facebook feed, as it did with a protest at the home of Board President Monica Garcia Wednesday.

Also notably absent from UTLA’s press conference was Caputo-Pearl’s typical demonization of the superintendent. Instead, Caputo-Pearl focused on rallying his members to stay on the picket lines “for as long as it’s going to take” and attend another rally downtown Friday. He said he did not expect the strike to drag on for months and was optimistic that if his members keep up the fight, an agreement could be reached “sometime relatively soon.”

In addition to the mayor, “I think the governor is going to play a key role,” he said.

LAUSD also struck a more conciliatory tone in a statement released Thursday evening. While saying the strike needs to end now, the district nevertheless acknowledged that “this is an historic moment in Los Angeles as many more people are engaged in the conversation about the importance of public education…Public education is the ultimate labor-management collaboration…And those who do the work need to have a stronger voice in how the work is done.”

Speak UP’s Executive Director Katie Braude said she was “encouraged that all parties are back at the negotiating table today, and I hope for a quick resolution to end the strike so we can get our kids back in school.” 

Board Vice President Nick Melvoin also said he was encouraged that “talks were able to resume to bring us closer to reaching an agreement.”

At school sites, though, all was not entirely well. The union representing principals sent a letter saying that principals feared for their safety crossing the picket lines after one administrator’s car was “swarmed with picketers yelling obscenities and blocking the entrance” to the school’s parking lot.

"It is the members, who have more than once repeatedly said, 'This is untenable, this is dire, I'm afraid for my health and safety, I'm afraid I'm not going to go home to my family, and the schools need to shut down,'" the head of the union told KPCC/LAist’s Kyle Stokes.

There was also an incident at an elementary school in which six teachers, including the UTLA chapter chair, crossed the picket line, sparking what one source described as “violent confrontations” between the staff members who defected and striking teachers from surrounding schools who were sent in to take their places on the picket line. 

And one substitute told Speak UP that district staff sent to help at her school “sleep and text all day.”

Melvoin told Speak UP that he was concerned about the toll the strike has taken on students and LAUSD finances. “I’m primarily concerned about the loss of learning and disruption this week, but given that what’s keeping the two sides apart is mostly money – for class size reduction, counselors and other support – losing tens of millions of dollars only makes it more challenging to find a solution.”

While Melvoin praised the activism of passionate teachers, parents and other civic leaders, he said, “I am hopeful that tweets and Facebook likes in support of this movement will convert to votes for more funding and support for our public school communities, including affordable housing and more social services for our teachers, employees, and families.”  

Likewise, Braude expressed her appreciation for the spotlight that teachers have shined “on the shameful underfunding” of California’s schools.

“The Los Angeles teachers’ strike, while disrupting the lives of school children and families, has brought much-needed attention to oversized classes, low teacher compensation, inadequate resources for counselors, librarians and nurses -- most detrimental to the most vulnerable students in our district,” she said. “Parents are equally troubled by the inadequate school funding. The bulk of LAUSD's funding (90 percent) comes from the State. California has been at the bottom for decades, and the results are scathing: Most children in LAUSD cannot read or do math at grade level, and the gap between affluent and low-income kids persists.”

Braude encouraged parents to support a plan to increase revenue for L.A. schools. “It’s time to work with the governor and our state legislators to come up with a funding strategy that puts California at the top of the country in per-pupil funding,” she said. “We should all get behind Prop 13 split roll reform and a parcel tax in 2020 to bring more resources to our underfunded schools.”