LA Teachers Set To Strike Monday After Union Rejects New LAUSD Offer. No Weekend Talks Planned

L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner holds a news conference at LAUSD headquarters on Fri., Jan. 11, 2019. (Photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

Less than 60 hours before a possible strike, the union for L.A.'s teachers rejected the latest offer from the Los Angeles Unified School District, at the same time saying it had no plans to negotiate over the weekend.

Friday's development all but guarantees more than 30,000 LAUSD teachers, librarians, school nurses and counselors will walk off the job Monday for their first strike since 1989.

"If the district has a proposal that is demonstrably different between now and Monday, they can send that to us," United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl told reporters.

But "short of a surprise like that ... ," he added, "get ready, because on Monday, we will be on strike for our students, for our schools, for our communities."

If a strike were to begin on Monday, Caputo-Pearl said it's doubtful the union would be available for talks the same day. He said officials would likely be too involved with strike activities on what would be the first day of picket lines.

Earlier Friday, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner expressed exasperation with what he deemed UTLA's unwillingness to come forward with a meaningful counter-proposal.

"If they want a strike, they'll have a strike," Beutner said at a news conference. "We're doing everything we can to avoid it. We don't want it because we know the harm it will cause."

Members of the bargaining team for the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union gather Fri., Jan. 11, 2019. (Photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

NEW OFFER, SAME RESULT

Here's what happened Friday.

School district administrators announced a new contract proposal for UTLA, offering to spend more money on a key sticking point in negotiations: class sizes.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors also offered to pitch in to help settle the long-running dispute.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the county's governing board will soon consider a motion to forward "up to $10 million" in mental health funding for the school district.

According to Beutner, the funds would ensure every LAUSD elementary school has a nurse five days a week — partially, but not fully, meeting a UTLA demand.

Ridley-Thomas said the proposed funding was intended to "close the gap so we can get on with the education agenda of L.A. Unified."

It wasn't enough for teachers union leaders, who were displeased by the way information was trickling out. The union's bargaining team found out about the district's new offer right as Beutner unveiled many of its details at a Friday afternoon press conference.

"What an atrocious set of values at the bargaining table," Caputo-Pearl said, "that you're going to come in and pass a proposal across the table while you're superintendent is presenting it to the media with his own spin."

Where things stand on key sticking points:

CLASS SIZE REDUCTION: $25 MILLION MORE

LAUSD officials proposed spending $130 million on targeted class size reductions in certain schools and grade levels, an increase from the $105 million it had previously offered.

But the funding increase only covers one year — which teachers union officials considered a major flaw.

THE CLASS SIZE 'SAFETY VALVE'

There was also no progress, both sides said, on a critical issue at stake: the district's broad discretion to raise class sizes.

LAUSD has offered to scrap a particular provision of the contract UTLA dislikes — "Section 1.5" — but has also said the language needs to be replaced. Reducing class sizes is expensive, so the district says it cannot entirely give up the flexibility to increase class sizes in the event of strain on the district's finances — a safety valve, so to speak.

"It's not good enough for UTLA to say they don't like our proposal," Beutner said. "What's their proposal? We've agreed to get rid of 1.5. I think anyone would say we need something to make sure, we make sure we have some rules in place, whatever that might be."

UTLA leaders continue to fault LAUSD's negotiators for trying to lock in the current class sizes as a baseline. They want smaller class sizes than the district's current guidelines.

How much smaller would the union want to make class sizes? The union hasn't specified — but they view making such a counter-offer to be pointless anyway.

Union officials point out that the district's discretion led directly to the status quo, which allows for as many as additional seven students per classroom in some schools and grade levels. That was put in place after LAUSD invoked its "Section 1.5" powers.

"Since they haven't been willing to move on 1.5," Caputo-Pearl said, "discussions of numbers don't mean anything because their numbers can just be jacked up and go through the roof because they have the unilateral authority to do so."


MORE ABOUT THE POSSIBLE STRIKE


NURSES: FIVE DAYS A WEEK IN ELEMENTARY

LAUSD had previously offered to double the number of days a nurse would be available at each district middle school.

That step addresses a much broader UTLA demand: that every school in the district be staffed with a full-time nurse.

Now, with the infusion of $10 million from L.A. County, Beutner said the district will be able to guarantee full-time nursing services at the elementary level.

Caputo-Pearl was skeptical how far this money would go toward meeting union demands.

"The number of additional nurses that they're talking about, around 150," Caputo-Pearl said, "would not provide full-time nurses at all schools ... We've got over 900 schools."

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said Friday this funding would come from the county's Department of Mental Health. But the motion he authored with fellow Supervisor Hilda Solis also calls on two other county departments — Public Health and Health Services — to explore whether they could also pitch in.

And that funding would just be for one year.

The supervisors are set to consider the motion on Tuesday.

United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl (center) and members of the teachers union's bargaining team on Fri., Jan. 11, 2019. (Photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

HOW MUCH STATE FUNDING IS LAUSD DUE?

The district was able to sweeten its offer after Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a new state budget proposal Thursday, which included at least $3 billion in new funding for K-12 education statewide.

"Every nickel that we're receiving, we're putting in our classrooms," Beutner told reporters.

Beutner told reporters Friday that LAUSD's previous contract offer to the union assumed some increase in ongoing state funding for public schools, although they hadn't counted on getting quite as much as the governor ultimately proposed.

"We had assumed already getting to 1,000 [new] educators," he said. "We expected the state revision to be a positive one."

Caputo-Pearl union officials spoke with Newsom's budget staff and were told LAUSD stood to gain at least $140 million in state money "on top of what's already expected" — meaning he believes the district ought to have more ongoing state funding to spend.

UPDATES:

10:15 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional details and quotes.

This article was originally published at 5:37 p.m.


Hey, thanks. You read the entire story. And we love you for that. Here at LAist, our goal is to cover the stories that matter to you, not advertisers. We don't have paywalls, but we do have payments (aka bills). So if you love independent, local journalism, join us. Let's make the world a better place, together. Donate now.