LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge today gave the teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District the green light to begin their planned strike Monday, rejecting a bid by the district to obtain a temporary restraining order.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel said that with the collective bargaining agreement between the LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles scheduled to end Sunday, there would be no contract to enforce in order to enjoin the teachers from walking the picket line the next day.
“The court finds that UTLA has the better argument here,” Strobel said.
The judge did not rule on the merits of the district's breach-of- contract action against the union, meaning the LAUSD could seek a trial later before another judge on damages suffered as a result of a strike, including the costs for substitute teachers.
UTLA earlier settled on Monday as the time to launch the first strike at the LAUSD since 1989. The delay was in response to the district challenging Thursday's originally scheduled start time in court, contending it was not given official 10-day notice, as state law requires.
Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the strike would occur Monday unless the union sees a “serious” proposal by then. Another round of talks between UTLA and the LAUSD was scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m.
The LAUSD put out a statement after Thursday's ruling:
“Los Angeles Unified is willing to work around the clock to avoid a strike that will harm the students, families and communities most in need,” the district said.
Union and district leaders met face-to-face at LAUSD headquarters for about five hours Wednesday but emerged from the negotiations still far apart on key issues.
Caputo-Pearl told reporters he “did not see seriousness” from the district and criticized the fact Superintendent Austin Beutner was not present for the negotiations. Beutner and school board President Monica Garcia were in Sacramento to meet with state leaders to seek more revenue for the district, a district official said.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Beutner said when asked about Caputo-Pearl's criticism. “We had a very senior team in the meetings and these meetings came out of the (contract negotiation) meetings I attended all day Monday.”
Beutner did not report that any new revenue or resources were secured from the state that could help avoid a strike and did not respond to a reporter's repeated questions if he met personally with Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The district and the teachers remain at odds over the size of a proposed raise, along with how much money should be spent to add support staff, reduce class sizes and other issues.
The LAUSD has offered teachers a 6-percent raise spread over the first two years of a three-year contract, while UTLA wants a 6.5-percent raise that would take effect all at once and a year sooner.
UTLA also says it wants “fully staffed” schools with more nurses, librarians and counselors added to the payrolls, along with pledges to reduce class sizes.
On Monday, the LAUSD raised its previous offer by $75 million to add more than 1,000 staff members to schools and help decrease class sizes, up from an initial offer of $30 million. Caputo-Pearl argued the offer would not make a significant impact and could actually end up raising class sizes. He also said the offer was a spending plan which would only last one year.
“Our kids don't need fulltime nurses for just one year. They need it for their school career, and they need it for their life,” Caputo-Pearl said.
Caputo-Pearl also said the district's raise offer for teachers would be contingent on cutting future health care benefits, which the union could not accept.
Another disagreement between the two sides is over a reported $1.8 billion reserve the district has. UTLA argues that the reserve could be tapped to pay for its demands, while Beutner has said the reserve has already been fully earmarked, including for the potential raises for teachers. He has argued the UTLA demands will push the district into insolvency.
“We cannot accept those demands. They know that,” Beutner said. “Our regulators will not allow us to accept those demands.”
Caputo-Pearl said a commitment of at least 15 percent of the disputed $1.8 billion reserve dedicated to class size reduction could satisfy the union.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Office of Education appointed a team of fiscal experts to work with the district to develop a fiscal stabilization plan. The office has the power to take over financial decisions from the LAUSD school board, and threatened late last year that it may do so if the district's finances don't improve.
Beutner said the county's move means it is “deeply concerned about our rate of spending versus the amount of resources that we have.”
As the second largest school district in the nation, it covers an area totaling 710 square miles and serves over 694,000 students at 1,322 schools, although 216 schools are independent charter schools, most of which are staffed with non-union teachers that would not be affected by the strike. The district says about 500,000 students and 1,100 schools will be impacted by the strike.
About 80 percent of the district's students come from low-income households and qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, and around 25 percent are learning English but the district says it intends to keep all of its schools open while it also continues to serve around 1 million meals each day.
The district also says it intends to attempt to keep some instruction going for students, as 400 substitutes have been hired for the task and 2,000 administrators with teaching credentials have been reassigned.
However, with over 25,000 teachers expected to strike and a total of over 31,000 UTLA members set to walk out, the district is expected in many cases to do no more than supervise students during the day in auditoriums and other large spaces.
The district and union have been negotiating for nearly two years without coming close to a resolution, and UTLA's members have been working without a contract for more than a year. They've already gone through mediation and a fact-finding session in recent months. The fact finder's report was issued last month, and it sparked more verbal sparring between the two sides.
On Monday, the union withdrew a demand to give teachers more control over standardized testing issues and budgets.
The union also removed a demand to have a voice when the district starts a new magnet program. And although the district came forward with its new proposal to add 1,000 positions, Caputo-Pearl said he was surprised LAUSD offered “so little” and that a strike was still likely.
UTLA also announced a separate strike at three charter schools is also in the works. The union represents teachers at three South Los Angeles charter schools operated by The Accelerated School, and said the strike would be the first at a charter school in the district.
That strike is set to begin on Tuesday after UTLA and the schools' management failed to reach a contract agreement following 20 months of negotiating, UTLA said. Leaders at The Accelerated School did not immediately comment.
Photo: Getty Images, Andrew Mollenbeck