LAUSD, Teachers Union Goes to Third Day of Mediation

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Labor negotiators with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the union representing about 33,000 district teachers will hold a third meeting today with a state mediator in hopes of reaching a contract agreement and averting a threatened teachers' strike.

Members of United Teachers Los Angeles have already overwhelmingly voted in favor of a strike if mediation efforts fail. Two previous mediation sessions have failed to bring any resolution to the stalemate in talks.

While last week's mediation session was being conducted, the union held a news conference to lash out at LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, accusing him of holding high-dollar meetings at ritzy Southland restaurants with charter-school advocates and operators.

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 the news conference at UTLA headquarters.

The union is staunchly opposed to continued expansion of charter schools, saying they rob funding from public schools to benefit private operators. A key union demand in contract talks is for stepped-up accountability for district charter schools.

The union has previously accused Beutner of spreading “disinformation” about the contract talks. The district has not responded to the union's criticism of Beutner, issuing a statement saying, “L.A. Unified remains committed to resolving the issues through the mediation process.”

In late September, 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 members.

“Beutner's proposal does nothing to make our schools better,” Arlene Inouye, head of the union's negotiating team, 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 to the 2017-18 school year, and another 3 percent for 2018-19. The second increase is contingent on the district's financial picture, with the raising taking 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 contract 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 -- an assertion also strongly disputed by the union.

Photo: Getty Images

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