Alex Caputo-Pearl wins second term as L.A. teachers union president

Alex Caputo-Pearl has won a second three-year term as president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents teachers, counselors and nurses in L.A. Unified.

The results announced Monday were a strong vote of confidence for the union leader, who received 82% of the vote against challenger Lisa Karahalios. His “Union Power” slate also won, sweeping all seven citywide offices, even though the opponents included veteran and respected union leaders. All the winners received more than 50% of ballots cast, allowing them to avoid a runoff.

A union release called the victory a mandate to keep pressing on several fronts — among them, higher salaries, continued strong health and retiree benefits and class-size reduction to benefit students and teachers.

Some district officials have questioned whether the nation’s second-largest school system can afford another  raise for teachers on the heels of the current contract’s 10% increase over two years. This most recent raise followed several years of job cutbacks and eight years with no raises other than those built in for experience and education level.

The union’s platform also includes an ongoing effort to rein in charter schools, which have proved popular with many families, but mostly are nonunion.

The union statement also articulated a more recent priority: “defending our students and communities from federal anti-immigrant and anti-human rights attacks.”

“It’s an affirmation of the direction we’ve been headed,” Caputo-Pearl, 48, said in an interview after the tabulation. “It gives us a lot of wind in our sails in the upcoming fights for a good contract, for state legislation that holds charter schools accountable and also in the school board races and in our efforts to take on Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos."

President Trump’s education agenda is not entirely clear. In the past, DeVos, his billionaire Education secretary, has bankrolled efforts to promote charter schools as well as tax breaks and government-funded subsidies for students to attend private schools.

Karahalios had argued that Caputo-Pearl’s team was neglecting the needs of individual teachers as it pursued a broad political agenda. She also questioned the effectiveness of his push to limit charter school growth. But her campaign failed to gain traction because many members closed ranks around Caputo-Pearl during what they perceive as perilous times for teachers and traditional public education.

Caputo-Pearl will have little time to savor his victory because the union is locked in another election struggle, over three of seven board seats on the L.A. Board of Education. The union and affiliated unions are expected to spend well over $1 million to retain a board that is generally pro-union. Supporters of charter schools are expected to pay even more to try to tip the balance. 

“We are going 100 miles per hour,” Caputo-Pearl said.

Katie Braude, leader of the parents group Speak UP, which has sided with the pro-charter candidates, offered measured congratulations. She said Monday that she shared the union president’s goal of treating teachers well, but added: “I challenge him to always put the interests of kids first, even when it clashes with the interests of his own members."

An official with the state charter school association was more blunt. 

“Instead of three more years of baseless attacks on charter public schools and families, we are hopeful he will value a parent’s right to select a school best suited for their child's learning needs,” said Richard Garcia, director of elections communications for California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates.    

The union sent out 31,036 ballots and 26.4% of members voted. In the prior election, when Caputo-Pearl unseated Warren Fletcher, the turnout was 22.7%.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume


UPDATES:

3:05 p.m., Feb. 28: This article was updated with a comment from a representative of the California Charter Schools Assn.

This article was originally published at 5:50 p.m., Feb. 27.

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