+30,000 LAUSD Teachers Strike and It’s About More Than Just Money

LAUSD strike cover image
LAUSD strike cover image

Two years of contract negotiations between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) broke down last Friday and resulted in the second largest school district going on strike for the first time since 1989. 

According to the UTLA, every one of the 900 schools in the district signed onto the strike – some 30,000 teachers across 900 schools. An estimated 10,000 supporters, including parents, students and community members joined the union on picket lines in a show of solidarity. 

Meanwhile, the LAUSD remains open and operational, a massive bureaucratic endeavor that involves reassigning 2,000 administrators to classroom supervision duties and hiring 400 substitute teachers. 

The strike has drastically impacted the school’s normal day-to-day operations. The entire district has an enrollment of about 500,000 students, but 141,631 students attended school on Monday. In spite of striking teachers, the district has vowed to keep all schools open for its duration. According to the district’s website, instruction is continuing and meals will be served. However, early education centers are open only to special-needs students and state preschools will be closed.

Students attendance poses a problem for the LAUSD because the district receives funds per day per student for attendance. 

A strike hotline has been set up for parents and guardians to call for up-to-date information: 213-443-1300.

The strike is clearly having a big impact on the Los Angeles area,” said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner in a Tuesday morning press conference. “To state the obvious, we need our educators back in our classrooms helping inspire our students.”

UTLA members disagree – teachers need to be back in schools with proper resources and fair pay, according to the UTLA’s Strike Watch.

This show of unity and determination sends a strong message to Beutner and the School Board that our members are determined to stay on the picket lines as long as we have to, that we are not playing games, that parents and community are behind us, that we are prepared to do whatever it takes to give our students a chance at a quality education,” the union website says about Monday’s picket line activity.

Carlos Antonio Gomez is a high school math teacher in East Los Angeles and has been working for the LAUSD since 2005. In his opinion, the strike is about deep, systemic issues the district needs to address in order to attend to student well-being. 

Children are our future, he says in an email. “We need to invest all of our resources into them to ensure that they become happy, productive members of society. Out of all the demands UTLA has asked for, the most important one, in my opinion, is the addition of counselors.”

Gomez shared the following story to illustrate the point: “Recently, I had two students contact me, during winter break, telling me that they were extremely depressed and had been contemplating suicide. I took all precautionary measures to ensure that they were safe and out of harm’s way but what would have happened if I wasn’t their teacher? Or if they hadn’t reached out? Both students are doing just great. That’s why I think it’s important. We need to start listening instead of lecturing.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles businesses and organizations are responding to the hundreds of thousands of students not in class by providing safe alternatives for families that, for whatever reason, don’t want to send their children to school during the strike. A number of LA parks and recreation centers are open and providing food and recreation, and metro transit rides will be free for all students with LAUSD ID cards. The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles and La Brea Tar Pits and Museum are not charging students admission at this time. 

Joining the UTLA are picketers from The Accelerated School in South-Central. This is the first strike by charter school teachers and the second time this has happened in the country, according to UTLA. While The Accelerated School strike is separate from the UTLA strike, but both desire better working conditions. 

The UTLA is asking for a 6.5 percent raise, smaller class sizes and more mental health resources including nurses and counselors. 

The LAUSD’s most recent offer included a 6 percent raise for teachers and reduction of class size by 1 student. 

The 6 percent raise would be spread over two of three contract years, whereas the UTLA desires the 6.5 percent all at once. 

The biggest misconception is the belief that teachers are only concerned with getting BIGGER checks but that’s not the case,” says Gomez. “The reality of the matter is, we’re fighting to ensure that our children receive the best education possible, as well as providing them with more counselors and support staff assistance.”

The mayor of Los Angeles and the California governor have urged the UTLA and the LAUSD to negotiate a deal and get school operations back to normal. 

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I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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