Negotiator to Teachers: Take the Raise LAUSD Is Offering

Members and supporters of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing L.A. Unified School District teachers, wave signs during a demonstration along Firestone Boulevard in South Gate on Weds., Oct. 24, 2018. (Photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC) (Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

Six weeks ago, Los Angeles Unified School District administrators made a new contract offer to members of the district's teachers union, hoping to prevent its first teachers strike in nearly 30 years.

Back then, leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles rejected the offer as "a trojan horse." But this week, a neutral, state-appointed third party, known as a fact-finder, essentially said that the district's earlier offer — while far from perfect — could be a starting point for a possible deal with UTLA.


NEW: LAUSD Teachers Have Set A Date To Go On Strike


On Tuesday, LAUSD officials released the report from the fact-finder, who was charged with offering suggestions for resolving the nearly two-year-old contract dispute.

The fact finder's suggestions are just that — suggestions. Either side can simply ignore the recommendations — and now that they've been released, UTLA leaders are under no legal obligation to return to negotiations.

The union's president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, has said that UTLA's 30,000 teachers, counselors, school nurses and librarians will walk off the job in January if the district doesn't meet their demands.

FULL REPORT: Read the entire list of recommendations

Here's what fact-finder and professional mediator David A. Weinberg recommended:

  • ADOPT LAUSD'S OFFER ON SALARIES: The fact-finder endorsed LAUSD's most recent offer of a 6 percent raise for UTLA members — 3 percent in back pay and another 3 percent for the current school year (as opposed to a total of 6.5 percent, retroactive to 2017). He asked the district to drop its demand for teachers to complete an extra 12 hours of training to receive the raise.
  • ADOPT LAUSD'S PROPOSAL ON RETIREE BENEFITS: LAUSD wants to require teachers to be older or have logged more years of service with the district in order to qualify for retiree benefits — a proposal known as the "Rule of 87." Weinberg said he agreed with the union's call for salaries that were more competitive with other Southern California districts, but that "making some adjustment for future teachers ... may help in the future to free up more money for salaries."
  • ACCEPT KEY UTLA DEMAND ON CLASS SIZE: Union officials cheered the fact-finder's recommendation to scrap a portion of the contract that currently give LAUSD powers to raise class sizes unilaterally. LAUSD is willing to get rid of that contract language; the sticking point has been what new language takes its place. On Oct. 31, district negotiators proposed a replacement. Union officials found it to be even worse than the original, but offered no alternative at the time. In his report, the fact-finder essentially urged the two sides to go back to the table and hash out the details.
  • WRITE SMALLER BASELINE CLASS SIZE LIMITS INTO CONTRACT: Class sizes in LAUSD are regulated differently by grade and by school, but the limits on class sizes are written into the contract. Union officials weren't only concerned that the Oct. 31 offer would grant LAUSD too much freedom to raise class sizes, but also that it would lock in baseline class sizes that were themselves too large. In his report, Weinberg urged the two sides to negotiate a class size grid — with new average and maximum class size levels that are lower than current levels.
  • ACCEPT LAUSD'S OFFER TO SPEND (A LITTLE) MORE ON CLASS SIZE: The fact-finder recommended the district increase spending by "1 to 3 percent in order to recruit additional teachers and staff to reduce class size" and hire more nurses, counselors or librarians. LAUSD officials said this amount lines up with an offer it made on Sept. 25 — a targeted effort to reduce class sizes in 90 of the district's highest need schools.
  • STOP ARGUING ABOUT ALMOST EVERYTHING ELSE: The fact-finder said the two sides were negotiating over too many proposals — many of which were union ideas that, while well-intentioned, rely on "a level of trust between labor and management which is not present at this time." So Weinberg essentially argued the two sides should drop most of their other proposals (like UTLA's demand that teachers get to vote on every campus conversion into a magnet school) or turn them into small-scale pilot programs (like LAUSD's proposal to shake up its teacher evaluation system.) Among the items on which Weinberg asks the union to punt: caseloads for special education teachers. "The changes to caseloads requested by the union," the fact-finder wrote, "are quite expensive."

HOW DID PEOPLE REACT?

Both sides found victories to claim in the fact-finder's report.

"I think the report is fair," said LAUSD school board vice president Nick Melvoin. "I wouldn't say it's a home run for either party."

In a statement, UTLA's Caputo-Pearl said the fact-finder confirmed several "essential UTLA positions," including on the size of the district's $1.8 billion reserve — money he's previously accused LAUSD of refusing to spend on items the union wants.

But LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner said the report also confirms the district's counter-argument to the union's claims: as the fact-finder puts it, LAUSD's "reserves in the coming years will be decreasing due to ... anticipated deficit spending."

Beutner called for district and union negotiators to return to the bargaining table to close a deal.

"The neutral fact-finder has told us the path forward is clear," Beutner said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

In response, union leaders accused Beutner of mischaracterizing their position. UTLA's Caputo-Pearl said in a statement that Beutner seemed "more interested in perpetuating falsehoods than finding a real path to an agreement that respects teachers, parents our students and communities."

Two school board members Tuesday welcomed the fact-finding report as an opening for resolving the long-running dispute. Teachers have been working without a contract for more than a year. Last July, UTLA declared an impasse and walked away from un-mediated contract talks.

"We do not want to see a strike in Los Angeles that hurts our children and families," said board president Mónica García, who appeared alongside Beutner at Tuesday's press event.

Melvoin — who once voted against a labor contract because he felt it didn't do enough to curb rapidly-rising spending on pensions and benefits — said he believes the fact-finder's report offers a reasonable framework for a deal.

"I don't see a willingness to completely capitulate" to all UTLA demands, Melvoin said, "because I think everyone knows the price that we would be paying as a district" if accepting the union's costly proposals now only led to layoffs and cuts in the future.

However, Melvoin said, "within the parameters of this report, there's enough there to get us to a deal."

UTLA leaders said they plan to hold a press conference on Wednesday to "make an announcement."


UPDATED, Dec. 18, 6 p.m.: This post was updated to reflect statements from Beutner, García, Melvoin and Caputo-Pearl.


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