Thursday, January 17, 2019

LOS ANGELES (CNS)— Thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers returned to the picket lines Tuesday on the second day of the district's first teachers strike in 30 years, asking for increased pay, smaller class sizes and the hiring of more support staff, such as nurses, counselors and librarians.

Teachers at The Accelerated Schools charter school in South Los Angeles also went on strike Tuesday, calling for increased teachers' salaries and health benefits in order to bolster teacher rentention. Those teachers are represented by the same union that represents teachers in the LAUSD. The walkout is billed as the first ever in California by charter-school teachers.

About one-third of LAUSD students attended classes on the first day of the strike, according to district officials. The district serves nearly a half-million students and about 142,000 were on campuses Monday.

Los Angeles schools Superintendent Austin Beutner said the first day of the strike hit the district hard. The fact only one-third of the district's students showed up will cost the district $25 million in state funding based on attendance, Beutner said. Unpaid wages for the strikers amounted to $10 million, meaning the district suffered a one-day loss of $15 million.

Beutner said the teachers union and the 31,000 members who walked off the job should join with the district in pushing Sacramento to better fund schools.

"Let's build on the renewed attention on public education in our community," he said. "Let's bottle it. Let's put it on our buses and let's go to Sacramento."

All 1,240 elementary, middle and high schools were open Monday and again Tuesday, thanks in part to substitute teachers and credentialed school staffers, Beutner said. Bus service was operating normally, and meals were being served to students as usual.

At 10 schools, non-teaching personnel took part in a sympathy strike, leaving administrators to prepare and serve meals.

Negotiations between the two sides broke off Friday and United Teachers Los Angeles went on strike Monday. Beutner said Monday the district is "committed to resolve the contract negotiations as soon as possible."

"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 Friday. Beutner urged UTLA on Monday to resume bargaining "anytime, anywhere, 24/7."

The district increased its contract offer on Friday when Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his state budget proposal which includes more money for school districts across the state. The offer also includes, among other things, reducing class sizes in middle schools, a full-time nurse at every elementary school and another academic counselor at high schools. The increased staffing would only be for one year, with the district saying the money to pay for the extra employees would come out of a one-time reserve.

UTLA rejected the offer, saying it did not go far enough to bolster school staffing and limit potential class-size increases. The union also says the district's salary increase proposal is contingent on benefit cuts to future union members.

Underlying the strike is the issue of charter schools. Union officials have accused Beutner and some members of the school board of favoring a vast expansion of privately operated charter schools, which are governed by the state and generally staffed by non-union teachers.

"Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said. "The question is: do we starve our public neighborhood schools so that they (become) privatized, or do we re-invest in our public neighborhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?"

Los Angeles County supervisors are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposal to give the district up to $10 million for nursing and mental health services.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday a deal could be close.

``This is the time to make an agreement," he told the Times. "There is not much that separates the two sides. And there has been movement toward what the teachers have demanded and what the district can afford."

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 claims the district's proposed salary hike would be contingent on benefit cuts for future union members.

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 unaffected by the strike. The district says about 500,000 students and 1,100 schools are impacted by the walkout.

Beutner said Monday that educational activities were continuing in schools, although it was unclear to what extent classes were being held. The district hired 400 substitutes, and 2,000 administrators with teaching credentials have been reassigned.

UTLA represents more than 31,000 teachers.

The district has set up an information hotline for parents at (213) 443-1300.