LA Teachers Went On Strike Monday. Their Union and LAUSD Will Resume Contract Talks Today

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union President Alex Caputo-Pearl speaks to striking teachers and their supporters outside John Marshall High School on the first day of the teachers' strike. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Representatives for United Teachers Los Angeles, whose 30,000 members have been on strike since Monday, will resume contract talks with L.A. Unified School District leaders on Thursday — the first time in almost a week the two sides have met in-person.

Mayor Eric Garcetti's office confirmed the resumption of negotiations between LAUSD and UTLA in a statement late Wednesday. The mayor's staff will facilitate the talks, the statement said.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond also met with the mayor and United Teachers Los Angeles officials on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Garcetti's office said. A statement from Thurmond's office said that the state's top education official also met with leaders for LAUSD.

Thurmond, who was elected in November, has also offered to assist in negotiations if needed.

WHAT TO EXPECT

For now, the two sides have simply agreed to talk. At a press conference late Wednesday, UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said the resumption of talks does not mean a framework for a deal is now in place.

"It's still pretty initial," Caputo-Pearl said. "We're going to go in hopefully."

But the union leader sounded a positive note, telling members to be prepared for this new round of talks to last through the weekend.

"There have been really rough times in this negotiation, and there are serious trust issues," Caputo-Pearl said, without a hint of the anger he showed in an earlier press conference, during which he tore into LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner.

"With the help of the mediation of the mayor's office," Caputo-Pearl continued, "and the assistance from Tony Thurmond — if needed, that's been offered — we're going to approach that optimistically."

L.A. Unified School Board vice president Nick Melvoin praised the "voices of passionate parents, teachers, and other civic leaders [that] have helped facilitate continued talks."

HOW THE MAYOR GOT INVOLVED

In August, Garcetti offered to act as a mediator in the protracted, toxic dispute. In recent days, the mayor's office has been quietly talking to both sides, attempting to act as an intermediary between the two camps, who fundamentally distrust each other.

Even late Wednesday, when sources began telling KPCC/LAist that more talks might be imminent, the development seemed tentative. After UTLA's announcement that it would return to the bargaining table, a full hour passed before the mayor's office confirmed the development; many LAUSD officials remain tight-lipped.

Now that he's officially involved in the negotiations, Garcetti is stepping out onto a tightrope, placing his credibility on the line at a pivotal moment in his political career. (Widespread rumors suggest Garcetti is considering a run for president.)

FILE - L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks during an event in Echo Park on Mar. 9, 2018. (Photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

THE OPTIMIST IN THE ROOM

At a press conference Monday, the mayor said he felt the two sides could come to a resolution "soon."

"I truly do believe not a lot separates us materially," Garcetti said. "We have some policy issues to confront on things like [charter schools], on things like how LAUSD is going to be reorganized under the new superintendent and what role will teachers play in that reorganization. But ... they're not talking very far away from each other."

The mayor's sunny assessment is at odds with UTLA's and LAUSD's public statements around the central issue of class size reduction, which cuts to the heart of almost every pressure point in the talks. The two sides have starkly contrasting ideas about how much money the district has to spend and how much control district administrators ought to have.

Garcetti also said LAUSD officials may have to commit more funds than what they're currently proposing; doing so, he said, would require "maybe not a leap of faith, but at least a hop of faith" that programs LAUSD enacts now will be funded later — somehow.

In a statement earlier Wednesday, Melvoin said he had spoken with the mayor with hopes of winning his support for some kind of tax package to benefit LAUSD.

Last July, school board members toyed with the idea of putting a parcel tax on the ballot to raise revenue for the district — but backed away when polling numbers suggested the measure might not pass. The support of a popular mayor might help.

Thursday's talks are scheduled to begin at noon at L.A. City Hall.