We Have A Deal: LAUSD, UTLA Negotiators Reach Contract Agreement
After nearly two years of failed negotiations and a six-day strike, the Los Angeles teachers union's contract dispute with the nation's second-largest school district is finally over.
Negotiators for both United Teachers Los Angeles and the L.A. Unified School District reached a tentative agreement on a new contract early Tuesday morning, following a 21-hour negotiation that lasted until nearly sunrise.
By evening, union leaders announced that enough members had voted to accept the tentative agreement. They said UTLA members will return to their classrooms tomorrow, and school days will return to normal for LAUSD's more than 484,000 students.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl and LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced the deal at a joint press conference at L.A. City Hall.
THE DEAL IN BRIEF
- Three-year contract through 2021-22 school year
- LAUSD relinquishes power to unilaterally raise class sizes to save money
- Class sizes will gradually decrease over three years by at least one student per year
- 2021-22 provisions will require new funding, LAUSD officials say -- either through a parcel tax or increased state or federal funding
- 300 more nurses through 2021, 77 more middle- and high school counselors
- A 6 percent raise for teachers -- 3 percent retroactive, 3 percent ongoing
Complete details below
"Today marks a new chapter," said LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner, who said the deal addresses class sizes and salary issues in a way that allows the district to remain solvent. "The strike nobody wanted is now behind us," he said.
Alex Caputo-Pearl, the leader of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he's confident that the deal hits all the crucial notes, particularly issues of salary and class size. "It's a very broad compact" around a number of other issues, such as racial and social justice, he added.
He noted that the strike was one of the largest the country has ever seen.
Mayor Garcetti said he was "happy to play a small role" in this "historic agreement."
WHAT COMES NEXT
The 33,000 rank-and-file members of UTLA must still vote on the agreement before teachers can return to their classrooms, but union officials have said they're prepared to "turn around the vote quickly on the strike lines."
Even after the members weigh in, the deal will need to clear several hurdles. L.A. Unified School Board members will need to approve the proposed contract.
Then, the district's regulators at the L.A. County Office of Education will have a chance to weigh in. State law gives them ten days to review the terms and decide whether the deal "endangers the fiscal well-being" of LAUSD.
Days before the teachers went on strike, the county appointed a "fiscal expert" to oversee LAUSD -- a serious show of concern about the state of the district's finances.
County regulators have expressed concerns that the raises LAUSD had offered UTLA could be unsustainable. (UTLA believes these concerns are unfounded.)
WHAT WE LEARNED
The city's first teachers strike in 30 years proved to be a pivotal moment in history, not only for the nation's second-largest school district but for many of the city's leaders.
The strike tested LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who had warned that LAUSD would need to spend most of a $2 billion reserve in order to keep its books balanced and could only afford to spend so much on UTLA's demands. Declining enrollment and rising benefits costs, he cautioned, would soon begin to squeeze out services for students. Union leadership cast doubt on those warnings, noting that previous forecasts of LAUSD's financial collapse have yet to come true.
Before the strike began, Beutner had also been developing even broader plans. He had been reportedly exploring a shake-up of the school system's central bureaucracy, according to the L.A. Times. But the union alleged Beutner's "re-imagining plan" would open the door to more charter school growth -- and the strike created a huge audience for these union critiques.
The strike altered L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's relationship with LAUSD. Up until the strike, Garcetti had been hands-off in his dealings with the school system. Now, his office's negotiation of a strike-ending settlement will become a resumé point for Garcetti, who's widely rumored to be considering a run for president.
Finally, the strike considerably raised the profile of UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl. Before the strike, the union had been losing ground politically, with its candidates suffering morale-draining defeats in the 2017 school board elections. Through it all, Caputo-Pearl kept up the steady drumbeat toward a possible strike. Under his direction, the teachers union decisively won the battle for public opinion.
Beyond local news, UTLA stirred national conversation about the role of teachers and of teachers unions at a time of uncertainty for organized labor. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus decision dealt a blow to public sector unions, making union membership essentially voluntary for government employees.
In that context, UTLA's strike was a visible show of unions' enduring power in L.A. and in California.
WHAT IS IN THE DEAL?
Here's a twist: after working for more than one year without a contract, some parts of the deal would cover the next three-and-a-half years -- through the 2021-2022 school year.
The extended contract term gives LAUSD time to phase in some of the most expensive provisions, but also allows for more ambitious plans to meet two key union demands: reduce class sizes and hire more nurses, librarians and counselors.
The lengthier contract also lets the district spread out the cost over time. LAUSD predicts the first two years' worth of class size reductions and staffing increases would cost $175 million. In the third and final year of the contract -- 2021-2022 -- district officials estimate spending another $228 million on these demands.
But three LAUSD officials said Tuesday the class size reductions beyond 2021-2022 were offered based on a "handshake agreement" with UTLA that the school district will figure out some sort of new funding stream.
One option would be to pass a "parcel tax" -- a kind of property tax that would require permission from two-thirds of the school district's voters. If they fail to get the votes, the district may attempt to revisit these class-size reductions before the contract expires.
But Mayor Garcetti will also endorse a Nov. 2020 ballot measure that would increase the amount of property tax revenue available statewide; known as the "Schools and Communities First Act," it would exempt commercial properties from the Proposition 13 "property tax loophole."
CLASS-SIZE "SAFETY VALVE": GONE
Experts say class-size reduction is "one of the most expensive things you can do in education" because lowering class sizes requires hiring more teachers.
But the price tag wasn't the only factor that made class-size reduction the single biggest sticking point in the late stages of talks. The union desperately wanted to remove a "safety valve" provision of the contract that gave the district broad discretion to raise class sizes.
On Tuesday, LAUSD officials made a key concession: they agreed to give up the safety valve provision, called Section 1.5, expire.
Throughout contract talks, district officials had hoped to replace Section 1.5 with a new class-size safety valve of some sort -- a new contract provision that would give the district similar authority to raise class sizes to save money.
There is no such replacement language in Tuesday's tentative agreement. But both LAUSD officials and union leaders acknowledged that if a budget crisis arises in the future, both sides may need to revisit the class size agreement in order to prevent cuts elsewhere.
CLASS SIZES REDUCED
Under Tuesday's agreement, LAUSD's class sizes would reach the highly ambitious targets UTLA leaders had hoped for -- but not until 2022. The class-size reductions would be across-the-board, but gradual.
Next school year, in Grades 4 through 12, class-size limits would decrease from current levels by one student. For example, most fourth grade classes, currently limited to 34 students, would instead be capped at 33. The district would also honor its offer to cap all middle- and high school English and math classes at 39 students next school year.
In the 75 highest-need elementary schools and 15 highest-need middle schools, the reductions will be even greater. Starting this year, they'll be able to reduce class sizes by an extra two students -- on top of the reductions all other schools are receiving.
In 2020-2021 -- the second year of the deal -- class size limits would step down again, by one more student. (Fourth grade classes would then top out at 32 students.)
And in the deal's final year, 2021-2022, the limits would decrease again by two more students. That would mean that, over the life of the deal, class-size caps would have decreased by four students in most grade levels.
LAUSD agreed to hire 300 more school nurses over the next two school years -- 150 in 2019-2020 and 150 in 2020-2021. UTLA officials say that's enough to fully meet their demand for a "full-time nurse at every school five days a week."
Another 78 librarians would be added to the district's ranks over the next two school years -- enough, union officials claim, to fully meet their demand for a full-time nurse in every middle- and high school.
The district also agreed to hire 17 counselors next school year and another 60 counselors in 2021-2022 -- enough to guarantee a student-to-counselor ratio of 500-to-1 in LAUSD middle- and high schools.
UTLA accepted the 6 percent raise the district was offering -- a 3 percent raise retroactive to July 2017, and another 3 percent retroactive to July 2018.
A deal at this salary level doesn't create new, unanticipated costs for LAUSD; district officials had already set aside $303 million to cover the cost of a raise of this size.
The salary agreement only runs through the end of this school year. The two sides agreed to revisit the question of teacher salaries in January 2020.
ALSO OF NOTE
- Charter school regulations. Charter schools are publicly funded, but run by outside non-profit organizations that compete with LAUSD for enrollment -- and therefore, state school funding. The tentative agreement calls on L.A. Unified School Board members to vote on a resolution endorsing state legislation blocking new charter schools from opening in the district until a "comprehensive study" can be undertaken. (Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and state schools superintendent Tony Thurmond have called for some form of temporary charter moratorium.) The tentative agreement also gives teachers union members on LAUSD campuses that share space with charter schools -- yes, really they do that; it can be an awkward arrangement -- a say on the charter's facilities agreement with the district.
- Sacramento might help. LAUSD can free up more money in its books to pay for the deal if state lawmakers can help out on a highly technical matter: the district normally would have to pay a penalty for failing to maintain a certain ratio of administrators-to-teachers. But LAUSD, UTLA and the Mayor Garcetti's office joined forces to lobby state lawmakers for a waiver from that penalty. According to an LAUSD official, they spoke to Gov. Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins. If lawmakers come through, that waiver frees up $105 million over three years that would've otherwise gone to that penalty.
- UTLA refuses healthcare concession. LAUSD had hoped to ask new hires into the district to have to put in one additional year of service to the district, and also be one year older, before they can become eligible for the district's generous retiree benefits package. But unlike most of the district's other employee unions that settled contracts this year, UTLA refused to accept the new "Rule of 87." For the time being, the teachers will be the only LAUSD employees who adhere to the "Rule of 85." The district will likely revisit this provision in the near future.
- Early childhood teachers get a lunch break. They didn't before!
- 'Community schools.' UTLA has long endorsed an educational model called "community schools," which make schools into hubs for not only educational programming, but wraparound services like health care and after school activities. Community schools also, by UTLA's definition, offer "culturally relevant" teaching and give educators a greater voice. LAUSD has agreed to fund a pilot program for community schools at 30 campuses district-wide by 2022. As part of that pilot program, UTLA members on those campuses will have a greater say over spending decisions on those campuses.
- Random searches. UTLA has supported student activists who oppose LAUSD's longstanding policy of searching middle- and high school students at random for weapons or drugs. As part of their tentative agreement, the district would expand its pilot program -- in which LAUSD administrators adhere to a more relaxed search policy -- to another 28 schools.
To read L.A. Unified's summary of the deal, click here.
To read United Teachers Los Angeles' summary of the deal, click here.
And here is the full tentative agreement in all its legalese glory:
7:49 p.m.: This article was updated with the results of the teachers union vote.
7:14 p.m.: This article was updated with more complete details of the tentative agreement.
10:29 a.m.: This post was updated to address a technical issue.
This article was originally published at 10:15 a.m.