LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With no sign of renewed labor negotiations and the union declaring an impasse, the Los Angeles Unified School District was on the verge today of its first teachers strike in 30 years.
After a flurry of negotiations and public back-and-forth, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl declared Friday night that the union was “at an impasse” with the district, and barring a “demonstrably different” contract proposal from LAUSD over the weekend, “we will be on strike for our students, for our schools and for the future of public education.”
The district issued a statement saying it was “extremely disappointed” at the union's rejection of the latest contract offer “without proposing any counter-offer.”
“UTLA has refused to continue contract negotiations,” according to the district. “More than 48 hours remain until Monday when UTLA plans to strike, and we implore UTLA to reconsider. A strike will harm the students, families and communities we serve, and we have a responsibility to resolve the situation without a strike.”
UTLA and district negotiators met behind closed doors for about four hours Friday afternoon, but made no progress in contract talks.
In the midst of the session, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner held a news conference to announce the district's latest contract offer. Union officials criticized the move, saying Beutner gave the proposal to the media before presenting it to the UTLA negotiating team, and he never actually attended the bargaining session.
Beutner said the revised offer was crafted after Gov. Gavin Newsom released a proposed 2019-20 budget increasing public education spending. The district's contract proposal is a roughly $24 million increase from the its 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 told reporters.
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.
Beutner said the contract offer represented a $130 million new investment, up from an original $30 million offer and a more recent $105 million offer. He said the proposal would reduce high school and middle school classes sizes by two.
According to Beutner, the funds would cap middle and high school English/math classes at 39 students, cap grades four through six at 35 students and maintain all other existing class sizes. He also said the funds would 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.
UTLA bargaining chair Arlene Inouye said the union was “insulted” by the district's “woefully inadequate” offer, saying the new hires in the proposal would only be budgeted for one year.
Reducing class sizes has been one of UTLA's demands, although disagreements about a pay raise, 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. Underlying the talks are the issue of privately operated charter schools -- which are governed by state law. The union has decried charters for bleeding away students and money from the district, and has accused Beutner of working to vastly expand the number of charter schools.
Caputo-Pearl said Friday Beutner is trying to “starve our schools and continue to move his privatization agenda,” referring to charters as an “existential threat” to the public education system.
Union officials have said that adding 1,000 teachers, or even 1,200 teachers, would have a minimal impact in a district with more than 1,000 campuses.
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.
A judge Thursday gave UTLA -- which represents more than 31,000 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.
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, and it claims the district's proposed salary hike would be contingent on benefit cuts for future union members.
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.
The union has repeatedly pointed to what it calls a $1.8 billion district reserve fund, claiming there is more than enough money for widespread hiring of teachers and school staff.
But Beutner said the reserve has already been fully earmarked, including for the potential raises for teachers. He argued UTLA's demands would push the district into insolvency and cost around $3 billion.
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. But Caputo-Pearl accused Beutner of orchestrating the county's involvement as a political ploy, insisting that the district has not faced a fiscal deficit in five years, and is not facing one now.
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 at least 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.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said that while he is encouraging both sides to continue talking to avoid a strike, if a walkout occurs, the city will bolster staffing and resources at city recreation centers, libraries and Family Source Centers “to support families with additional options.”
“We will also be deploying LAPD resources to help safeguard our city's children during a strike by providing officers at our city facilities and at LAUSD schools,” Garcetti said.