Mediation Continues, but Tensions Rise Over LAUSD Teachers Contract

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - As state mediation efforts continued today in hopes of resolving a labor-talk stalemate between the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers' union, the union accused Superintendent Austin Beutner of holding a lavish series of meetings with charter-school advocates.

Citing information taken from Beutner's official district calendar, obtained following a public records request and lawsuit, United Teachers Los Angeles officials noted that over a four-month period, the superintendent held meetings at restaurants including Pacific Dining Car, the members-only California Club, the Hilton Checkers and the Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades.

Union officials said Beutner's calendar revealed 34 meetings at restaurants during the four-month period, compared to 29 visits to school campuses.

Beutner “must explain to the public why he was at these expensive restaurants and clubs during school hours,” teacher Victoria Casas said at a news conference at UTLA headquarters.

She also questioned whether district credit cards were used to pay for meals.

Union officials also said Beutner's calendar showed he met with a variety of charter school supporters, including the president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, the heads of charter-school management companies and prominent charter backers including Eli Broad.

As part of the ongoing labor negotiations, UTLA officials are calling for increased accountability measures for charter schools. They have also been critical of school board members for what they see as a movement toward charters and away from traditional schools.

The district did not respond to the union's criticism of Beutner. Following Wednesday's labor talks, the district issued a statement saying only that another mediation session is set for Oct. 12.

“L.A. Unified remains committed to resolving the issues through the mediation process,” according to the district's statement, echoing the comment it issued after last week's mediation session.

The union's statements on Wednesday escalated its criticism of Beutner, an investment banker and former Los Angeles deputy mayor who took over as LAUSD superintendent in May amid criticism of his lack of experience in education. Following the first mediation session last week, the union sent a letter to the district accusing Beutner of spreading “disinformation” about the labor talks and calling on the district to “reinvest in our schools.”

Last week, the district updated its contract offer to UTLA, with 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.

“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.

Photo: Getty Images

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