Los Angeles teachers strike over pay and class sizes

Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the nation, are officially on strike today as several last-minute offers from the district were rejected by the teacher union.

At issue are pay raises for teachers, smaller class sizes, and hiring more staff.

The underlying issue is an "existential threat" to the union: non-union charter schools that are becoming popular.

Los Angeles Times:

"We have not received a proposal over the weekend," United Teachers of Los Angeles secretary Arlene Inouye said in a Sunday news conference. "We will be striking tomorrow."

Union officials declared an "impasse" in negotiations on Friday, saying an offer from the district to raise salaries, cap class sizes and hire 1,200 additional staff was good for only one year.  Nor had the district followed up on a promise, they said, to examine what union president Alex Caputo-Pearl called an "existential threat" – the impact of non-union charter schools on the city's public schools.

Shannon Haber, a school district spokeswoman, could not say Sunday whether the district offered to resume talks over the weekend.  But she did say that district superintendent Austin Beutner has said he would meet with union negotiators "anytime, anywhere."

In a statement Sunday, the district said instruction would continue at elementary, middle and high schools throughout the strike, though preschools would be closed and early education centers would be open only for special needs students.

There is not going to be much learning going on, even though the schools will remain open.  Herding kids into the gym or the auditorium will probably be the preferred option, where the much reduced staff will be able to keep an eye on the children.

"Los Angeles Unified did not want a strike," the statement said, citing its offer of 1,200 additional staff members.  "Los Angeles Unified remains committed to contract negotiations and will continue to work around the clock to find solutions to end the strike which will hurt students, families and communities most in need throughout Los Angeles."

Teachers have described Monday's strike as a last stand against decades of defunding public schools, a point emphasized by union officials Sunday.

"We're in a battle for the soul of public education," said Pearl-Caputo, whose union represents more than 30,000 teachers.

Are these issues worth striking over?  Certainly, class size is an important issue, and the union wants a nurse in every primary and secondary school – again, not unreasonable. 

As far as teacher pay is concerned, Los Angeles is one of the worst school districts in the state, and California is ranked near the bottom in the quality of public education.  I know that teacher unions don't think rationally about pay, but wouldn't it be refreshing to reward those teachers who do a good job and pay bad teachers less?

Just daydreaming.

The teachers want to pressure the district to give in to their demands instead of staying at the negotiating table.  Ordinarily, this is a sound tactic.  But these are public employees, paid by the taxpayers to educate their children.  Why should schoolteachers be treated like steel workers?  Just because they have a union? 

Public unions don't care where the money comes from, how high taxes are, or any other consideration given to taxpayers.  The Los Angeles teachers are not holding up the school district for more money.  They are holding up the taxpayers of L.A. County and the state of California.  They might reject that notion as simplistic, but sometimes simple truths matter the most.