Thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers returned to the picket lines Tuesday, the second day of the district’s first teachers strike in 30 years, with educators 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.
Around mid-afternoon, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said more than 159,000 students at campuses affected by the strike showed up to class Tuesday, although figures from about three dozen schools were still being collected. The preliminary figure was an increase of roughly 15,000 students from Monday, the first day of the teacher walkout.
Beutner said that Monday’s attendance of about 144,000 students will cost the district $25 million in state funding based on attendance. Unpaid wages for the strikers amounted to $10 million, meaning the district suffered a one-day loss of $15 million. An estimate of the monetary loss from Tuesday’s attendance was not immediately available, but was likely to be in the same range.
The district sent a letter to parents saying, “While state law does not excuse absences in case of a strike and students are expected to attend class, principals will work with students and families on attendance. At the moment, schools will not be notifying parents of absences, but will continue to monitor student attendance and provide support to students on an individual basis. Student absences during the strike will no impact graduation.”
The teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, accused the district earlier Tuesday of failing to issue a “clear, definitive statement” on how the district is handling absences, effectively “exploiting parents’ fears and knowingly spreading confusion to try to gain leverage.”
“If Beutner decides that students who show up out on the picket line are going to be punished for doing so, he needs to be clear about that policy, and the district will see the full force of 35,000 educators standing behind their students,” according to the union. “While UTLA cannot encourage students to miss school, we will not allow our students to be bullied by the school district for demanding the schools they deserve.”
Beutner called on the teachers union to 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.
Contract negotiations between the two sides broke off Friday, and as of Tuesday afternoon, there were no new talks scheduled.
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 included, among other things, the hiring of 1,200 teachers, 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.
“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.
UTLA rejected the offer, 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.
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?”
Thousands of UTLA members and their supporters rallied outside the downtown headquarters of the California Charter Schools Association Tuesday. The association’s president, Myrna Castrejon, issued a statement saying teachers and other school staff “do some of the most important and difficult work in Los Angeles — regardless of whether they work in a traditional, magnet, pilot or charter public school.”
She called for continued pressure on the state Legislature to increase education funding.
“Thousands of inspiring Los Angeles educators dedicate their lives to helping kids thrive at both district and charter public schools,” Castrejon said. “What unites us is so much more powerful than what divides us, and has more potential to improve kids’ lives.”
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to provide the district with up to $10 million for nursing and mental health services — saying it would be enough to fund a nurse at every LAUSD elementary school. That funding was included in Beutner’s most recent contract offer to the union last week.
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.
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.
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