600,000 KIDS IN LIMBO After LA TEACHERS STRIKE
Under a relentless drizzle of cold rain, 32,000 Los Angeles educators walked off the job Monday in the country’s second-biggest school district.
That means about 600,000 kids have no idea when they’ll see their teachers again.
Weeks of heated negotiations between the United Teachers Los Angeles union and the Los Angeles Unified School District went nowhere, leading to the city’s first teachers’ strike in 30 years.
But this strike isn’t focused on teachers’ salaries.
“It’s absolutely not the pay raise. It’s about class size reduction. In other words, hire more teachers,” said Andrea Cohen, who’s taught at John Marshall High School for 24 years.
“We want to have fully staffed schools. That means librarians, nurses, psychiatric social workers and their interns. We have 46, 45, 50 students in a class. It’s unacceptable.”
Both the union and the school district say they want smaller class sizes, bigger teacher salaries, and more counselors and nurses in the district’s roughly 1,000 schools.
The big debate revolves around how much to fund them.
While the adults keep struggling to find a resolution, students are still expected to go to school during the strike.
“Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education,” Caputo-Pearl said. “The question is: Do we starve our public neighborhood schools so that they are cut and privatized, or do we reinvest in our public neighborhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?”
Flanked by other educators, representatives from teachers’ unions and students, Caputo-Pearl said “let’s be clear educators do not want to strike” but they felt they now had to in order to fight for the proposals they were demanding for their students.
“California should be leading not languishing,” he said.
The union says it is taking a stand against an onslaught of what they call the privatization of public education — charter schools. Charter schools have been booming in the state, with a 150 percent increase in the last 10 years, according to the Sacramento Bee.
California ranks 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending, and even though California enjoys a nearly $9 billion surplus and L.A. Unified possesses $1.86 billion in reserves, the average high school class size in the district has grown to 42 students.
“The eyes of the nation are watching, and educators and nurses and public employees all throughout the country have the backs of the educators and the students and the parents in L.A.,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher’s labor union in the U.S.
“We are out here because we need the conditions to ensure that every child, not some children, but that every child gets the opportunity he or she or they deserve,” he said.
Despite the mass exodus of 32,000 teachers and staff, classes will continue at all schools. LAUSD has hired about 400 substitute teachers and reassigned more than 2,000 administrators to help educate the 600,000 students.
As for how that works out logistically, “It’s case by case, school by school,” said Shannon Haber, chief communications officer for LAUSD.
The huge shortage of teachers is enough to make Andrew Krowne keep his four LAUSD children home for as long as the strike lasts.
“It’s just a sheer overwhelming number of children versus adults,” he said. “I’m not risking my children’s safety.”
While both UTLA and LAUSD have made some concessions, both the union and the school district accuse the other of giving misleading facts and figures.
In LAUSD’s latest offer to the union Friday, the school district said it “would add nearly 1,200 more educators — teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians — in schools, reducing class size in thousands of classrooms.”
Class sizes in grades four to six would be limited to 35 students, and class sizes in all middle and high school math and English classes would be limited to 39 students, the school district said.
The offer would also “ensure no increase in any class size, increase nurses, counselors and librarians at all schools, along with a 6% salary increase and back pay for the 2017-2018 school year,” LAUSD said.
But union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the offer was good for only one year and that the school district’s proposal was “woefully inadequate.”
The union wants LAUSD to pull from its $1.86 billion in reserves to increase school staffing and boost teachers’ salaries by 6.5%.
But the school district says it’s not nearly as wealthy as the teachers’ union suggests.
“School budgets in California are set in three-year increments, and from July 2018 to June 2021, Los Angeles Unified will spend $24 billion educating students. This includes its entire, existing $1.8 billion reserve,” LAUSD said.
The school district said at this rate, it might not even have enough money to meet a required 1% reserve by the 2021-2022 school year.
“Our commitment to our families is to make sure all of the money we have is being spent in schools. We are doing that,” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a statement.
The financial situation is so bad, the Los Angeles County Office of Education is stepping in. Last week, the state-funded regulatory agency assigned fiscal experts to work with the school district on a plan to “eliminate deficit spending and restore required financial reserve levels.”
And the Los Angeles school board has ordered the superintendent to come up with a three-year “enterprise plan” to get more revenue by March 18. That plan “could include parcel tax and school bond measures, as well as strategies for increasing enrollment.”
What’s happening in Los Angeles resembles the widespread frustration that led to a flurry of teachers’ strikes across the country last year.
And while the LA walkout is the first major teachers’ strike of 2019, it certainly might not be the last.
“I think what you’re seeing is people want to make conditions better for children and for themselves,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
“People have tried to talk to legislators or talk to their bosses … they’ve gotten dismissed or disparaged,” she said.
“A strike is not a first resort for anyone. It’s a last resort — especially for teachers who are asked to do more with less every day. And enough is enough.”
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