Los Angeles Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles failed to reach an agreement during talks Monday, despite the district sweetening its offer on new hiring and class size reductions from $30 million to $105 million. The two sides will meet for more talks Wednesday, in hopes of averting a strike that UTLA has threatened to begin on Jan. 10.
The district and the union will also be in court Tuesday to argue whether UTLA has a legal right to start a strike Thursday. LAUSD claims that UTLA failed to give the proper technical 10-day written notice so if UTLA does go on strike, it might have to wait until Jan. 14.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl both attended Monday’s talks at LAUSD’s Beaudry headquarters, which Caputo-Pearl described as “diplomatic but tense at times.” Each side made some concessions.
LAUSD’s offer went above and beyond what the neutral state-appointed fact finder recommended. Nevertheless, Caputo-Pearl called it “inadequate,” adding, “We don’t think there was a lot of progress made today.”
LAUSD then said in a press release that it was “extremely disappointed and frustrated that the union has turned down our offer and – once again – failed to put forth any proposal to try to resolve the issues of class size and salary.”
In addition to offering employees 6 percent raises, LAUSD also offered to hire 1,000 new people – enough to double the nursing services at every elementary school and add a librarian to every middle school and an additional counselor at every high school. LAUSD not only agreed to get rid of a provision in the contract that allows it to arbitrarily raise class sizes, but it also offered to reduce class sizes from their current level at all grade levels (see chart for details).
One main sticking point has to do with increasing the amount of time by two years that it would take for new hires to become eligible for free lifetime health benefits – bringing the requirements in line with that of every other employee union. This would not affect current employees, but it would help slow the increase in the district’s massive unfunded retiree healthcare liability, which Beutner said had now climbed to $19 billion.
UTLA was also upset that the new hires were only guaranteed for one year. But LAUSD said it could only afford to hire people for one year before the money for those new hires runs out, sending LAUSD over the fiscal cliff.
Even though it is not a subject of bargaining, LAUSD also offered to address some of UTLA’s concerns about charter schools. While acknowledging that the state controls laws regulating charter schools, LAUSD offered to create a working group to recommend changes to the state on charter schools laws.
UTLA also offered to drop several of its demands that would have limited the number of magnet schools, for instance, and reduced district authority over standardized testing. UTLA, however, did not move at all on the main contract provisions, including salary and class size reductions. Its demands, according to Beutner, would cost billions and send LAUSD into insolvency and force a state takeover.
“The values we all hold are the same,” Beutner said. “We’d like to reduce class sizes even further. But we have to deal with some obvious constraints … We don’t believe a strike will produce more money to reduce class sizes or increase wages.”
While Beutner described himself as “an optimist” who hopes the two sides can reach an agreement, Caputo-Pearl reiterated his threat that unless something significant changes, “there will be a strike in the City of L.A.”
Both sides are preparing for that outcome. The Board will vote Tuesday on a plan to allow parents to volunteer on school sites during the strike without having to get fingerprinted or get TB tests. Parents will still be checked against a sex offender database.
One parent from a school in South L.A. also told Speak UP that someone from district nursing called him and asked if he could attend school with his disabled daughter who is typically fed through a G-tube. Nurses are part of UTLA and would also be on strike.
In addition to seeking parent volunteers, LAUSD has also hired 400 substitute teachers and will deploy 2,000 administrators to school sites to help supervise kids, who will likely be kept in auditoriums and cafeterias to do online coursework.
Therapist Victoria von Barauchitsch is one sub who has agreed to help supervise kids during the strike. “Many parents in low-income homes [who] don't speak English don't even know about the strike,” she said. “Some can't afford childcare. Others feel the need for their kids to keep up with learning. So many kids are so far behind academically already.”
The strike, she fears, will make matters worse. “This strike won't help the kids academically, no matter how many subs cross the picket line,” she said.
Von Brauchitsch not only needs to work, but she also feels an obligation to help keep kids safe. Her decision could come at considerable risk, given that some teachers have publicly threatened to photograph, post online and blacklist any subs that help supervise the kids.
“I will not be strong armed,” she says. “We should all be flexible and compassionate. Most on both sides are. I feel the need and responsibility to do what I'm doing. Those staff, principals, parent volunteers, that stay to help right now -- they are heroes.”