LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Labor negotiators for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers' union will return to the bargaining table today with a state-appointed mediator as they continue efforts to reach a contract agreement and avert a strike.
The district and United Teachers Los Angeles held its first mediation session on Thursday without reaching a resolution. Following that session, which was held at LAUSD headquarters, the district issued a statement saying it “remains committed to resolving the issues through the mediation process.”
But UTLA officials -- who will host Wednesday's mediation talks -- announced after last week's session that they had sent a letter to Superintendent Austin Beutner accusing him of spreading “disinformation,” criticizing his latest contract offer and calling on him to “reinvest in our schools.”
“That means using the $1.86 billion in reserves to fund the building blocks of healthy schools,” according to the letter.
Arlene Inouye, chair of the union's bargaining team, said after the session, “We expect the district to achieve our demands for the schools L.A. students deserve.”
Last week, the district updated its contract offer to United Teachers Los Angeles, with Superintendent Austin Beutner saying the proposal includes a 6 percent pay raise over two years and class-size reductions at 15 middle schools and 75 elementary schools determined to have the “highest need.”
The offer “shows our commitment to helping students most in need,” Beutner said. “Our offer creates a pathway for L.A. Unified and UTLA to avoid a strike that would hurt L.A.'s most vulnerable students and families.”
UTLA, however, called the proposal “insulting” and a “stunning example of disrespect” to its 33,000 members. The union criticized the district for sending the contract proposal to the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets before sharing it with the union.
“Beutner's proposal does nothing to make our schools better,” Inouye said. “This is an insult to our members, to our students and to our parents. This stunt reveals he is more interested in fighting against educators at any cost than saving our school district.”
The district's proposal includes a 3 percent pay raise retroactive for the 2017-18 school year, and another 3 percent for 2018-19. The second increase is contingent on the district's financial picture, noting the raise will take effect “if the board's spring 2019 Second Interim Financial Report shows positive projected ending balances for 2018-19 and 2019-20.”
According to the district, the proposal also includes the chance for teachers to earn extra pay for taking science, technology, engineering, math or dual-language instruction courses.
Union officials said the district's offer regarding class-size reductions means no improvements for 90 percent of campuses, and the district would still have the ability to increase class sizes at any time. The proposal would also make it “more difficult to quality for secure health care in retirement,” according to the union.
The union is asking for a 6.5 percent pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2016, along with provisions for class-size reductions, accountability measures for charter schools and limits on standardized testing, among other provisions.
District officials said the union's salary proposal would increase the LAUSD's existing $500 million deficit in the current school year by another $813 million. But the union says the district can easily afford more investments in salaries and classrooms, pointing to a recent audit indicating the district has nearly $1.9 billion in reserve funds.
The district contends its reserve funds are already being used to cover budget shortfalls, which are expected to continue over the next three years -- a claim also strongly disputed by the union.
UTLA's members have already overwhelmingly authorized a strike, but that possibility will remain on hold pending the mediation sessions and a subsequent fact-finding period if the mediation effort fails.
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