LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Representatives of the union for striking Los Angeles teachers and officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District spent more than 11 hours at the bargaining table on Saturday and have agreed to meet again today at Los Angeles City Hall, according to a statement for Mayor Eric Garcetti's office.
The session is scheduled for 11 a.m., marking the fourth straight day of renewed talks since the teachers went on strike as of Monday, Jan. 14. with the mayor's office acting as mediator. Saturday's talks also began at 11 a.m. and continued throughout the day, ending at 10:28 p.m., the mayor's statement said, again calling the talks “productive,” as they have done after each session.
“We're going to be here late,” LAUSD chief financial officer Scott Price told the LA Daily News. And the paper asked former LAUSD school board president Steve Zimmer if there could be an agreement this weekend. “Stranger things have happened,” he said.
LAUSD officials have repeatedly called for an end to the now seven-day strike that has crippled classroom attendance and cost the district millions of dollars in state funding.
“The activism here cannot end. It must not end,” LAUSD board president Monica Garcia said. “The strike, however, it does need to end. We need our teachers and our children back at school doing the work that they need to do.”
Superintendent Austin Beutner echoed that call, stressing the need for the district and union to come to an agreement over the weekend so schools can reopen.
“We need our educators and our students back in school on Tuesday morning,” Beutner said. “So the onus is us. The onus is on us as leaders to do what we have to do in the next 48, 72 hours to make sure schools are open and educators and students are back in school on Tuesday.”
Beutner reiterated his insistence that the district does not have the money to fully meet the demands of United Teachers Los Angeles, but said he is prepared to talk throughout the weekend “to do what we have to do to make sure schools are open on Tuesday.”
But with no sign of an deal, the teachers' union -- energized by a massive rally at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles attended by tens of thousands of teachers and supporters -- appeared ready to continue walking picket lines next week.
“We are going to work relentlessly this weekend in negotiations,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the crowd Friday morning before the day's contract talks began. “But we have to come back on Tuesday with our picket lines even stronger than this week.”
The two sides returned to the negotiating table on Thursday, with the renewed talks brokered by Garcetti's office. The negotiating teams met for more than 12 hours before recessing shortly after midnight Friday morning. The talks resumed around 11 a.m.
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.
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 union disputes the district's claim it cannot afford more extensive investment in school staffing, 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.
No details have been released about potential revised contract offers that may have been placed on the table over the past two days.
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 85,274 students went to class Friday at strike-affected campuses, up slightly from 84,160 on Thursday.
District officials said the absentee rate over the first five days of the strike has translated to a gross revenue loss of about $125 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.
Photos: Getty Images