Los Angeles teachers return to class after voting to end strike

January 22, 2019

Striking teachers and other workers hold up signs in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

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.

For a summary of the agreement, go here and for the full agreement go here

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:

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.

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