LAUSD Brings New Teacher Contract Offer Forward in Effort to Avoid Strike

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Hoping to stave off the district's first teachers' strike in 30 years, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said today he presented an updated contract offer to the teachers union that would hire more teachers, reduce and cap class sizes and add nurses and counselors to some campuses. 

Beutner said the revised offer was crafted after Gov. Gavin Newsom released a proposed 2019-20 budget increasing public education spending. 

The proposal is a roughly $24 million increase from the district's previous offer, with $10 million expected to come from the county and the rest anticipated through the state budget process, Beutner said. The proposal would add 1,200 new teachers for the upcoming school year, which is an increase from the district's previous offer of 1,000, and would help reduce and cap class sizes, Beutner said during a mid-afternoon news conference. United Teachers Los Angeles plans to go on strike Monday if a labor agreement is not struck by then. 

There was no immediate response from UTLA to the latest contract offer, which Beutner said was presented during a bargaining session that began at district headquarters at 1 p.m. 

Beutner said the district likely won't be able to offer much more, given the LAUSD's financial constraints.

``This represents the best we can do, recognizing that it is our obligation to provide as much resources as possible to support out students in each and every one of our schools,'' Beutner said.UTLA leaders are expected to speak to reporters at 5 p.m. The union has repeatedly accused Beutner of trying to negotiate the contract in the media, and it posted a photo on its Twitter account showing union leaders watching a live-stream of Beutner's news conference, saying that was how the union learned of the contract proposal.

The new LAUSD offer would increase funding by $130 million in the 2019-20 school year, an investment Beutner said will reduce high school and middle school classes sizes by two. The district had been previously proposing a $105 million investment.

According to Beutner, the funds will cap middle and high school English/math classes at 39 students, will cap grades four through six at 35 students and maintain all other existing class sizes. He also said the funds will provide library services at every middle school, nursing services at all elementary schools five days a week and add an academic counselor at every comprehensive high school.

Reducing class sizes has been one of UTLA's demands, although disagreements about a pay raise, regulation of charter schools, the staffing level of nurses, counselors and librarians, and other issues have also been areas of conflict in more than two years of contract negotiations. 

The budget Newsom released Thursday would spend a record $80.7 billion on kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and community colleges, up from the roughly $78 billion included in the previous spending plan.

Beutner said the new spending would be contingent upon Newsom and the state Legislature approving the new state education budget by June, but he said he has a high degree of confidence an agreement would be reached.Newsom's beefed-up education budget comes amid a flurry of activity this week surrounding UTLA's planned strike.

``We go in with an open mind every day,'' UTLA Alex Caputo-Pearl said Thursday when asked if he was hopeful about the district's plan to sweeten its contract offer. He said 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.''

Beutner also said the district has officially asked Newsom to get directly involved in the negotiations.Newsom told ABC7 that ``if I'm asked to intervene I'll do so.''

``If both sides wish to see that, we'll do it, but what I did today I hope makes an impact,'' Newsom said Thursday. ``We just submitted a record budget for our K-through-12 education system; $80.7 billion, hopefully, will take a little bit of pressure off the district ... and maybe that will just help enhance a little bit of their negotiation.''

A judge Thursday gave UTLA -- which represents more than 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 announced Wednesday that it was pushing the date back due to legal action by the district.Caputo-Pearl said earlier this week the strike would occur Monday unless the union sees a ``serious'' proposal by then.

The LAUSD has been offering 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 because it would only add roughly one person at each campus, and it might actually end up raising class sizes. He also said the proposed spending increase 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 proposed salary increase for teachers would be contingent on cutting health care benefits for future union members. 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 and cost around $3 billion. 

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 believes LAUSD is on the ``precipice'' of financial insolvency. Captuo-Pearl this week said he essentially did not trust the district and suggested there had been previous collusion between the county and LAUSD education leaders. 

As the second largest school district in the nation, the LAUSD covers an area totaling 710 square miles and serves more than 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. The district says it intends to keep all of its schools open in the event of a strike 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 during strike. Four hundred substitutes have been hired for the task and 2,000 administrators with teaching credentials have been reassigned. However, with more than 25,000 teachers expected to strike and a total of more than 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 has established an information hotline for parents at (213) 443-1300 to answer questions about the planned strike and its possible impact.

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