By: Mikayla Carter
For the first time in 30 years, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) went on strike. Despite the cold weather and rain, 32,000 teachers from the district carried umbrellas in one hand and signs in the other as they marched downtown on Monday, January 14, 2019. However, they didn’t just march for a pay raise. “It’s about class size reduction. In other words, hire more teachers,” said Andrea Cohen, who’s taught at John Marshall High School for 24 years. “We want to have fully staffed schools. That means librarians, nurses, psychiatric social workers and their interns. We have 46, 45, 50 students in a class. It’s unacceptable.”
Monday morning, the teachers walked off the job, leaving more than 600,000 K-12 students without their teachers (that’s more than the entire population of Wyoming). Although schools were still open the day of the strike, it was unclear how many of LA’s students would attend class. LAUSD hired about 400 substitutes and transferred more than 2,000 credentialed administrators to watch classes for the day. Many schools planned to put large groups of students into auditoriums, multipurpose rooms, and gyms in order to be supervised by fewer adults. Principal Martin Price of Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies stated that the 40% of students that showed up to school will “rotate through two periods of academic classes and one period of physical education.”
“Let’s be clear”, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said “educators don’t want to strike. We don’t want to miss time with our students. We don’t want to have less money for the car payment or less money for the school supplies that we always end up buying ourselves.” The strike was bound to happen, due to negotiations between the teachers union and the L.A. Unified School District breaking after 20 months of bargaining.
However, the real problem lies in the funding. LAUSD has offered to “add nearly 1,200 more educators — teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians — in schools, reducing class size in thousands of classrooms” and “ensure no increase in any class size, increase nurses, counselors and librarians at all schools, along with a 6% salary increase and back pay for the 2017-2018 school year”. But, this offer was only good for one year, according to union President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who describes it as “woefully inadequate”. The school district does not have enough money to support the teachers’ demands of a $1.86 billion increase in school staffing and a salary increase of 6.5%, as this would bankrupt the system. The school district claims that 90% of its funding comes from the state, and has little control of gaining more.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner tells the union that “our commitment to our families is to make sure all of the money we have is being spent in schools.” and that they are doing just that. He mentioned that LAUSD will “remain committed to resolve the contract negotiations as soon as possible,” and that they “would encourage them to resume bargaining with us anytime, anywhere, 24/7. We’d like to resolve this.”
Most recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a budget “that would make the largest ever investment in K through 12 education, help pay down billions in school district pension debt and provide substantial new funding for special education and early education.” Newsom encourages the two parties to continue negotiating because “this impasse is disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families”.
As these negotiations are settled between the union and the Los Angeles School DIstrict, parents debate whether or not to send their children to school. The strike could last days or even weeks, leaving students without a place to learn. But as of right now, there is no end in sight for an agreement between the teachers’ union and LAUSD.