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Tens of thousands teachers walk off job in Los Angeles

By Daniella Silva

Tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers went on strike Monday after negotiations in the nation’s second-largest school district collapsed.

Braving rain, teachers carrying signs saying “on strike for our students” and umbrellas stood in picket lines Monday morning demanding smaller class sizes, more nurses, counselors and librarians, higher wages for educators and more accountability for charter schools. There were picket lines at 900 schools across the city, United Teachers Los Angeles union president and teacher Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a news conference Monday.

“Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education,” Caputo-Pearl said. “The question is: Do we starve our public neighborhood schools so that they are cut and privatized, or do we reinvest in our public neighborhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?”

Flanked by other educators, representatives from teachers’ unions and students, Caputo-Pearl said “let’s be clear educators do not want to strike” but they felt they now had to in order to fight for the proposals they were demanding for their students.

“California should be leading not languishing,” he said.

The strike was the latest of teacher walkouts and demonstrations since last year which included Arizona, North Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Washington state, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

The union says it is taking a stand against an onslaught of what they call the privatization of public education — charter schools. Charter schools have been booming in the state, with a 150 percent increase in the last 10 years, according to the Sacramento Bee.

California ranks 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending, and even though California enjoys a nearly $9 billion surplus and L.A. Unified possesses $1.86 billion in reserves, the average high school class size in the district has grown to 42 students.

“The eyes of the nation are watching, and educators and nurses and public employees all throughout the country have the backs of the educators and the students and the parents in L.A.,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher’s labor union in the U.S.

“We are out here because we need the conditions to ensure that every child, not some children, but that every child gets the opportunity he or she or they deserve,” he said.

Arlene Inouye, secretary of the union, said Sunday that the strike was “a last resort” after teachers had been bargaining with the Los Angeles Unified School District for 21 months without reaching an agreement.

Inouye accused Superintendent Austin Beutner of mischaracterizing the union’s bargaining proposals.

“Parents, educators and our bargaining team have been disrespected by Beutner over and over again,” she said.

In a statement Sunday, the teachers union said that even with $1.86 billion in reserves, the school district “says it does not have the money to improve our schools to include lower class sizes, accountability for charter schools and a real reinvestment in school safety, vital staffing and educational programs.”

“Since 2008, the cost of living in L.A. has increased 27 percent yet the district offers stagnant wages and healthcare,” the statement said.

The school district defended its bargaining position and said that schools would be open Monday to provide “every student with a safe and welcoming learning environment.”

“Elementary, middle and high schools will be open, instruction will continue, and meals will be served tomorrow and throughout” the strike, the district said in a statement Sunday. Early education centers will be open only to special-needs students, and preschools sites will be closed, it said.

“Los Angeles Unified did not want a strike and offered UTLA leaders a $565 million package to significantly reduce class sizes, add nearly 1,200 educators in schools, and provide all UTLA members with 6 percent salary raises,” the district said, adding that it remains committed to contract negotiations.

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