LOS ANGELES (CNS) - As thousands of teachers rallied outside City Hall, contract talks between the Los Angeles Unified School District and union leaders resumed today as a teacher's strike fueled by demands for smaller class sizes and increases in support staff rolled into its fifth day.
Friday's talks came on the heels of a marathon negotiating session that lasted more than 12 hours beginning around noon Thursday and continuing until after midnight. There was no immediate word on whether any progress was made toward a resolution of the strike, which began Monday.
“We should be aware that we've been at this (negotiating) for 21 months and there are some very fundamental issues that there are key differences on,” United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a late-afternoon news conference Thursday. “An agreement is not going to take shape overnight. It's not going to be a quick and easy process, but today there's been good and hard work done.”
The LAUSD issued a statement late Thursday saying, “We need to resolve this as soon as possible to get our kids back in school and educators back in the classroom.”
“Our students are missing out on the opportunity to learn,” according to the district. “Families count on us to keep their children safe and cared for, so they can continue to work to provide for their families. We need to end this strike now.
“... This is an historic moment in Los Angeles as many more people are engaged in the conversation about the importance of public education. We need smaller class sizes, more support for our students and educators, including more nurses, counselors and librarians in our schools. We hope this passion and commitment our community is expressing will continue as we work together for more funding in Sacramento, where 90 percent of our funding comes from.”
As negotiations between the LAUSD and UTLA resumed, tens of thousands of red-shirted teachers and supporters gathered in downtown's Grand Park, across the street from City Hall, for a rally featuring rousing speeches and musical performances.
Actor Sean Astin, the cousin of an LAUSD teacher, was among those taking the stage to speak in support of the striking educators.
“This is a no-brainer,” Astin said in a Facebook video filmed near the Grand Park stage. “It is, you know, it's obscene the conditions that teachers are expected to work in in this city. ... We cannot punish our teachers and torture our children by forcing them to work in 40, 50, 60 kids in a classroom. And nurses and psychologists at schools in a big city like the City of Angels, like Los Angeles, is the only prudent thing for our community to do.”'
UTLA teachers went on strike Monday, calling for increased pay, smaller class sizes and the hiring of more support staff, such as nurses, counselors and librarians. The last time teachers went on strike in Los Angeles was 1989, and the walkout lasted nine days.
Beutner said Tuesday the district has offered the union as much as it can, given its financial constraints. He said the union's demands would cost billions of dollars and bankrupt a district already teetering on insolvency.
“It's just math,” he told reporters. “This is just math. It's not a values conversation. The experts have all said we do not have the ability to spend more than we're spending.”
The district last Friday presented the union with an offer that included the hiring of 1,200 teachers, capping middle and high school English/math classes at 39 students, capping grades four through six at 35 students, maintaining all other existing class sizes, adding a full-time nurse at every elementary school and adding another academic counselor at high schools.
“This represents the best we can do, recognizing that it is our obligation to provide as much resources as possible to support our students in each and every one of our schools,” Beutner said last Friday.
UTLA officials rejected the proposal, saying it did not go far enough to bolster school staffing, reduce class sizes and prevent them from increasing in the future. The union also blasted the district's staff-increase proposal for being only a one-year offer, and contended the district's salary increase proposal is contingent on benefit cuts to future union members.
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.
The district claims the union's contract demands would bankrupt the LAUSD, but the union disputes that contention, pointing to what it calls an estimated $1.8 billion reserve fund and insisting the district has not faced a financial deficit in five years. The district contends that reserve fund is already being spent, in part on the salary increase for teachers.
The second-largest school district in the nation, the LAUSD covers 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 unaffected by the strike. The district says about 500,000 students are impacted by the walkout.
The district hired 400 substitutes, and 2,000 administrators with teaching credentials have been reassigned during the strike. The district has set up an information hotline for parents at (213) 443-1300.
With the strike lingering, attendance has continued to plummet. According to the district, only about 83,928 students went to class on Thursday. That represented the lowest attendance of the strike, down 37 percent from Wednesday, when 134,724 students reported to class.
District officials said the absentee rate over the first four days of the strike has translated to a gross revenue loss of about $97 million in state funding, which is based on daily attendance. The loss is partially offset -- by roughly $10 million a day -- due to salaries that aren't being paid to the striking teachers. Beutner estimated earlier this week that the district suffered a net loss of roughly $15 million on Monday alone.