Los Angeles teacher strike drags on after negotiators fail to reach deal

Jan. 18 (UPI) — The Los Angeles Unified School district teacher strike could drag into next week as union representatives and school administrators were unable to reach a deal Thursday.

An estimated 30,000 teachers are picketing without pay at the nation’s second largest school district, fighting for higher salaries, smaller class sizes and additional support staff. The strike started Monday and has so far cost the school district $97 million in daily attendance, as many children are kept home from school.

The district has 640,000 students but only 83,900 students were in attendance Thursday.

The two sides have been meeting at Los Angeles City Hall, where negotiations will continue into Friday and possibly the weekend, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said.

“We should be aware that we’ve been at this for 21 months and there are some very fundamental issues that there are key differences on,” he said Thursday. “An agreement is not going to take shape overnight. It’s not going to be a quick and easy process, but today there’s been good and hard work done.”

The LAUSD released a statement saying the strike needs to be resolved as soon as possible to get children back in the classroom.

“Our students are missing out on the opportunity to learn,” the district said in a statement. “Families count on us to keep their children safe and cared for, so they can continue to work to provide for their families. We need to end this strike now.”

The district said that while smaller class sizes and additional nurses, counselors and librarians are important, the majority of the funding decisions are made by state lawmakers.

“We hope this passion and commitment our community is expressing will continue as we work together for more funding in Sacramento, where 90 percent of our funding comes from.”

The district has so far offered a 6 percent raise and proposed hiring 1,200 more teachers, as well as capping class sizes and hiring additional support staff. UTLA balked at the offer, saying teachers want the raise at 6.5 percent that takes effect sooner, not spread out over years. The union also said the proposed staffing additions aren’t enough.

LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner said Thursday the district has offered the union as much as it can under present financial constraints.

“This is just math. It’s not a values conversation. The experts have all said we do not have the ability to spend more than we’re spending,” Beutner said.

School board member Scott Schemerelson has criticized Beutner’s handling of the situation, and said he doesn’t speak for him.

“Instead of repeating the doom, gloom and heading for bankruptcy predictions that we have heard for decades, I believe that it is Mr. Beutner’s job to honestly identify sources of funding buried in our existing budget, and the revenue growth predicted for next year, that could be creatively sourced and invested in the students,” Schmelerelson said.

The union is trying to rally other California school districts to join the fight. Other large-scale teacher strikes have occurred in Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and West Virginia in recent months. Educators in Chicago may be next — as teachers at four charter schools on Thursday set a strike date of Feb. 5 without a new deal. The strike would include 140 teachers and affect more than 2,200 students.

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