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L.A. teachers union plans 1-day strike

The union representing Los Angeles teachers announced Friday that its members have voted to endorse plans for a one-day strike this month to protest looming teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.

Union leaders called on parents to join them, while acknowledging the demonstration would sacrifice instruction and complicate student testing. It also would violate the union contract.

“We expect parents to understand that the loss of one day to stop the chaos that would occur with larger class sizes and the laying off of teachers is well worth it,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “This is about maintaining the integrity of the education program.”

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Last month, the school board voted 4-3 to cut $596.1 million to help balance a nearly $6 billion general fund. Some 5,400 employees could lose jobs, including 3,500 less-experienced teachers who lack tenure. The cuts would take effect by July 1, the start of the 2009-10 school year.

Federal stimulus money has prevented additional job losses, and could yet save more jobs. As a precaution, however, district officials have spread the money over two years, because next year’s fiscal situation could be equally dire in the L.A. Unifed School District.

The teachers union wants the federal money to save jobs now. The union also challenged the direction of reforms under Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.

Beyond the cuts, Cortines decided to give school sites unprecedented control over budgets, which allows them to “buy back” certain positions he is cutting districtwide. Duffy said that school-site councils were unprepared, resulting in confusion and unwise, undemocratic decisions. Union leaders are pushing for a centralized program that prioritizes hiring teachers -- even though the union has long preached school-site control.

District officials acknowledge likely disruptions: Low-poverty schools will see class size soar and will lose teachers as a result. High-poverty schools (which have more money) might retain the same number of teachers, but it won’t necessarily be the same people -- because many instructors at these schools typically lack tenure.

“This is going to completely destabilize the school environment,” said Rebecca Solomon, a social studies teacher at L.A. High.

District officials have argued that wage concessions are needed to preserve faculties and class sizes, an approach many teachers oppose.

“Taking away from teachers is a socially acceptable mechanism for taking away from students,” said Dipti Baranwal, a first-year teacher at risk of being laid off. Close to 60% of teachers voted, and 73.8% of those authorized the strike.

Parent Donna Rodriguez, whose third-grader attends Ivanhoe Elementary, said she intends to march with teachers because “I’m there to do whatever it takes to have my daughter get a good education.”

But longtime parent activist Bill Ring called the union’s move disappointing for its impact on instruction and testing.

May is the month for giving state standardized tests. And the tentative May 15 strike date coincides with some Advanced Placement tests, which are important for college applicants.

“I don’t see the benefit for kids in this,” Ring said.

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howard.blume@latimes.com


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