Possible teachers strike would impact Los Angeles and 31 smaller cities

By Michael Hernandez

LOS ANGELES—A threatened teachers strike to begin Thursday, Jan. 10th would impact 640,000 students in over 1,000 schools and 200 public charter schools in the second largest school district in the nation.  Los Angeles Unified School District is spread over 720 square miles and includes the city of Los Angeles as well as all or parts of 31 smaller cities plus several unincorporated sections of Southern California.

The district has a budget of over $7.5 billion dollars and employs 60,000 workers (30,000 are members of United Teachers Los Angeles, 25,000 of this number are certificated teachers and health and human service workers) and is the second largest employer in Los Angeles County.  The district’s student population is over 73 percent Hispanic, 10 percent White, 8 percent African America, and 4 percent Asian.  English Learners make up 27 percent of the total enrollment and there is a high need for mandated but costly special education services.

LAUSD ranks in the middle to low middle range of other large urban districts and on the low end of surrounding districts when factoring in salaries and benefits. The District’s analysis of comparability with other school districts is based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA), and this analysis places them on the mid to higher comparable scale for wages and benefits, when applying this structure. LAUSD is one of the few school districts in the State that provide retiree medical benefits.

Labor discussions have been ongoing for almost two years and negotiations for over a year.  Teachers have been working without a contract for the last year.   State mediation began in late September with a three member panel:  state-appointed mediator David Weinberg, district representative Adam Fiss, and UTLA panelist, Vern Gates.  The mediation process has not been able to resolve the labor dispute between the district and union which then triggered a fact-finding report that was issued on Dec. 18th.

The fact-finding report states:  “While the parties have been negotiating a successor agreement for over a year, and while they conducted over 20 bargaining sessions and three mediations, they have only been able to come to an agreement on two or three minor items. There remains in dispute over 21 Articles, which have multiple issues within them. There seems to have been almost no progress made on any issue, which normally would be reflected in multiple counter offers being exchanged by each side that reduces the issues between the parties.”

(Editor’s Note:  The 27 page fact finding report has nine pages of recommendations and a nine page response from the UTLA representative Vern Gates and a two page response from district representative Adam Fiss.  See link:file:///Users/michael/Desktop/121818%20FactFinder%20Report%20LAUSD%20UTLA.PDF.). 

Following the issuing of the fact finding report, the State of California Public Employment Relations Board issued a complaint against United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) for refusing to bargain in good faith.  (Editor: View complaint at:

https://achieve.lausd.net/cms/lib/CA01000043/Centricity/Domain/4/ComplaintPERBCase%20NoLACO1760EIssued%20121718%20161232927.pdf.)

Also, following the fact-finding report, UTLA announced a strike date of Jan. 10 unless L.A. Unified takes “a dramatically different approach…[By] refusing to invest in our schools, the district has disrespected our students and disrespected us…We’ve reached the point where enough is enough.”   (Editor’s Note:  Earlier this fall, the union claimed that 98 percent of teachers voted for a strike or work stoppage.)

A Jan. 3 post by union president Alex Caputo-Peal on the UTLA website states:  “We will strike on January 10 unless we see an addressing of the crucial issues that shape education:  a fare wage increase, class size, staffing like nurses and counselors, school site decision-making, standardized testing, early education, adult education, special education, bilingual education, and common sense regulation on charters to contain the existential threat of the $600 million charter drain from neighborhood schools.”

Meanwhile, a Dec. 28th letter sent to employees by Los Angeles Superintendent Austin Beutner states that Los Angeles Unified is offering UTLA members:

  • A six percent raise with no contingencies;
  • No additional work or professional development required to receive the raise;
  • Back pay for 2017-2018;
  • Additional pay for teachers who take courses in areas that support students;
  • No changes to health benefits for current employees;
  • $30 million of additional funding to reduce class size and hire more counselors, nurses and librarians.

What are the issues dividing the two sides? 

The biggest divide concerns the district reserves.  The district claims deficit spending (expenses more than income) of over $300  million each year.  The union disputes these figures and cites an analysis from the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) which anticipates deficit spending in the amounts of $64.7 million in 2018-19, $82.3 million in 2019-20, and $129.7 million in 2020-21. LACOE attributes these projected deficits to declining enrollment, increasing pension costs, special education encroachment, and facilities maintenance.

The District’s reserves in the current fiscal year 2017-2018 is approximately $1.8 billion, which has been increasing in the past 5 years from $500 million in 2013-2014 to the current reserve levels. It is anticipated that the reserves in the coming fiscal years will be decreasing due to the anticipated deficit spending. The District’s average daily attendance (ADA), which forms a significant percentage of the incoming revenue for the District has been declining in each of the last four years, a drop of 8.6% during that time period.

According to laist (online Los Angeles news service) education reporter Kyle Stokes.  The issues dividing the union and the district are as follows:

  • Salaries: UTLA wants a 6.5 percent, across-the-board salary increase (retroactive to July, 2016) — a pay bump that the district estimated would cost more than $189 million per year. LAUSD officials, who initially contended that might be too high a price to pay, have been slowly increasing their salary offer throughout the talks. On Oct. 30, LAUSD offered a 6 percent increase and dropped demands that some of the salary hike contingent on the district’s finances remaining healthy. Union officials called the offer a “trojan horse.”
  • Class sizes:Among other changes, the teachers want to remove a provision in the contract that currently lets the district skirt rules on how big classes are allowed to be. Smaller class sizes equals a need to pay more teachers — so for all the attention salaries get, this demand is more expensive: a district-estimated $205.7 million per year. On Oct. 30, district officials offered to grant UTLA’s request to strike the controversial provision — but in its place, proposed a new set of conditions for increasing class sizes that union officials believe are “actually worse.”
  • Nurses and librarians: UTLA proposes to hire a full-time nurse for every LAUSD school and a full-time librarian for every middle and high school. Estimated price tag: $81.5 million per year.
  • Counselors, social workers and deans:The union wants the district to hire a raft of new counselors for secondary schools and to provide one restorative justice advisor, dean or social worker for every 500 students in a school. The district says that would cost $247.9 million per year.
  • Special education caseloads:Where the district proposes to create a task force to study special education caseloads, the union proposes to reduce the number of students assigned to one special education teacher. This is the costliest single proposal the union makes, according to the district’s accounting: an estimated $263.4 million per year.

Taylor Swaak, education reporter for LA School Report reports on two additional issues in the aftermath of the fact-finding report:

  • Shared decision making: The neutral report recommended tabling UTLA’s request for local school leadership councils, which would wield significant influence in professional development for employees and the spending of school-based discretionary funds. UTLA “is unlikely to convince the district at this time to develop a shared decision making model given the lack of trust between the parties,” the report stated.
  • State testing: The report didn’t fully back UTLA’s proposal to give teachers “academic freedom” to decide whether to administer standardized tests beyond what state and federal law requires. It instead recommended a pilot program at an “appropriate number of schools at each [school] level.”

 

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service, founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor.  He has worked 24 years as a middle school teacher.   Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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One Response to Possible teachers strike would impact Los Angeles and 31 smaller cities

  1. William Hicks January 9, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Tired of Teacher strikes? THE ANSWER TO TEACHER STRIKES:

    Give every parent in public education a voucher and let them decide if they want their children to be either in public or private school.

    I say this after a 43 year career with LAUSD.

    Reply

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