Tens of thousands of teachers in Los Angeles returned to classes on Wednesday morning, after a six school day strike yielded a collective bargaining agreement that had eluded their union representatives for nearly two years.
The settlement in California’s largest school district could serve as a model for brewing teacher disputes in other districts around the state, such as Oakland, and beyond California’s borders.
What was notable about the issues agreed to was that most did not have to do with salaries and benefits for the teachers themselves. In fact, the salary increase — a 6 percent retroactive increase spread over two years — was essentially the same as the one offered by the district before the strike.
Rather, many of the gains at the bargaining table had to do with improving the classroom environment for teachers, such as smaller class sizes, as well as expanding support services for students, such as hiring more counselors, nurses and librarians. This represented a recognition that student success depends on much more than what teachers do in the classroom.
The agreement, hammered out by the competing sides who met over the long weekend in City Hall, with Mayor Eric Garcetti shuttling between them. Later in the day the agreement was approved in an electronic vote by what the United Teachers of Los Angeles described as a “supermajority” of teachers. on the sixth day of the strike. The union did not release an exact tally of the vote.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti describes details of the agreement to end the city’s teachers strike. School Superintendent Austin Beutner is on the right, United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl left.
Garcetti described what he called a “new culture of collaboration” in the district and said he was committed to making sure that continues after the agreement is signed.
UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said the strike and its outcome represented an affirmation of a belief in public schools
“One of the things that happened over the last couple of weeks was a groundswell of support of parents, communities, and students for their schools,” he said. “A lot of it was about supporting teachers, but a lot of it was about supporting their schools that they love, public neighborhood schools.”
Asked whether he could trust Austin Beutner, the district’s superintendent, reviled by the union and disparagingly labelled as a non-educator and investment banker dedicated to “privatizing” public schools, Caputo-Pearl said “we are building that trust.”
Left unclear is precisely how the dozens of provisions agreed to would be paid for. The agreement explicitly states that the district, the union and the mayor will advocate for increased county and state funding. Garcetti pledged to work with both the district and UTLA to back the “Schools and Communities First” initiative planned for the 2020 ballot to reform Proposition 13, the tax-cutting initiative approved by voters in 1978.
Beutner said he still had “tremendous concerns about insolvency,” but those had to be “balanced with meeting the needs of our educators and our students. We are spending every nickel we have,” he said.
Among the dozens of provisions agreed to in the 40-page contract:
- Teachers will get a retroactive 6 percent pay raise, not the 6.5 percent the union had requested. Three percent is retroactive to the 2017-18 school year and an additional 3 percent would kick in for the beginning of the current school year. The union had been seeking a retroactive increase to the 2016-17 school year.
- Addressing the contentious issue of large class sizes, enrollments in high school math and science classes will be reduced by seven students beginning next year. In what the union regards as a major victory, the district gave up the right to override class size averages and caps agreed to earlier.
- The district committed to hiring an additional 150 nurses by the 2020-21 school year, which would result in a nurse in every school. It will also hire 41 more “teacher librarians,” which would translate into a librarian in every high school. To maintain a ratio of 500 students to every counselor, the district will hire a minimum of 17 new counselors.
- The district has agreed to convert 30 schools into “community schools” over the next two years, which provide a range of health and other services for students and their families. These schools will have additional funds and several new staff who will be UTLA members.
- Special education teachers would get two “release days” to conduct testing and other provisions to ease the demands on special ed teachers.
- The district has pledged to provide a dedicated hotline and attorney for immigrant families.
The impact of charter schools was a major issue in the strike, but individual school districts have little power to limit charter school growth. However, the elected board of education has agreed to vote on a resolution calling on the state to place a cap on charter schools in the district — although there were no assurances that the board would approve such a resolution.
Most significantly, the agreement addressed the contentious issue of charter schools being “co-located” on the same campus as district schools. Going forward, a UTLA “co-location representative” will be elected on campuses having to share space with a charter school and would help develop a shared-use agreement for the site. This would be the first time teachers and the union would have a direct say in the operation of charter schools in the district.
A great deal of attention, both positive and negative, has been directed to standardized tests aligned with the Common Core that students are required by state and federal law to take each spring. Much less attention has been focused on the ongoing tests and assessments students have to take multiple times during the year. In the future, a joint union-district committee will review all district assessments and develop a plan to reduce the amount of assessments by half.
Lamenting what he called “40 years of underinvestment in our schools,” Beutner, who has been on the job for less than a year, said, “This is a truly historic agreement, and we look forward to tomorrow, and a new day for our schools.”
Mikhail Zinshteyn also contributed to this report.