UTLA President Has `Open Mind' About New LAUSD Proposal

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles Unified School District officials said they will make a new proposal to the teachers union tomorrow in an effort to avoid a planned strike Monday -- an offer that includes additional funding to reduce class sizes and provide more support for teachers, which comes hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom released a proposed budget for 2019-20 that would increase spending for public education.

United Teachers Los Angeles is threatening to direct its members to strike on Monday, and reducing class sizes has been one of its demands, although issues over a pay raise, charter schools, the staffing level of nurses, counselors and librarians, and other issues have also been areas of conflict with the district in contract negotiations.Newsom's budget would spend a record $80.7 billion on K-12 schools and community colleges, up from the roughly $78 billion included in the previous budget.

``Yesterday, we spoke with state leaders in Sacramento about our shared commitment to public education, and the budget announced today by the governor is a strong statement of those values,'' LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said. 

``All of the legislative leaders we met with yesterday expressed their commitment to public education.''

He added, ``We expect the final budget adopted in June will reflect these values and provide additional funding for Los Angeles Unified. Our commitment to our students, families and educators is to invest this additional money in reducing class size and supporting classroom educators. We hope UTLA will work with us to resolve the remaining contract issues so we can keep kids safe and learning in school.''Newsom's beefed-up education budget comes amid a flurry of activity this week surrounding UTLA's strike threat.

``We go in with an open mind every day,'' UTLA Alex Caputo-Pearl said when asked if he was hopeful about the pending offer, but added that he believed Beutner's behavior ``does not inspire great confidence, but we will go in with an open mind with hopes that we will see a proposal.''

A judge Thursday gave UTLA -- which represents over 31,00 teachers, counselor, nurses and librarians -- the green light to proceed with a planned strike Monday, rejecting a bid by the district to obtain a temporary restraining order. UTLA had originally planned to start the strike Thursday, but on Wednesday announced it was pushing back the date due to the legal action.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.Another round of talks between UTLA and the LAUSD was scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m.Caputo-Pearl said earlier that the strike would occur Monday unless the union sees a ``serious'' proposal by then.Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said Thursday that he will be joining teachers on the picket line if they do strike.

``My wife and sisters are teachers in the LAUSD. I am a product of the LAUSD and a union town, and I'm supporting our teachers,'' Buscaino said. 

``It's not just about raises. There are 21 unresolved issues on the table, including smaller class sizes, more school counselors, librarians, and nurses. Students and teachers need more resources and a stable learning environment. While my role as an L.A. city councilmember does not allow me to participate in negotiations, I stand on the side of our teachers, therefore, myself, my wife and my kids will not be crossing the picket line.''

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn also offered to walk the picket line.

``I urge both LAUSD and UTLA to negotiate around the clock to reach an agreement to avoid a strike,'' Hahn tweeted Thursday. 

``However, I want to make perfectly clear that come Monday I stand with teachers and will gladly join them on the picket line.''

Union and district leaders met face-to-face at district 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 that 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.''

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 district reserve. 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 would 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.

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