Column: L.A. teachers’ strike: It’s not too late to avert disaster
Parents, teachers, and students rally in support of teachers at the corner of Topanga Canyon and Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills.(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Arlene Inouye, Co-Chair UTLA Bargaining Committee and UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl walk down the front stairs to an area where they hold a press conference in front of the LAUSD offices.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Arlene Inouye, Co-Chair UTLA Bargaining Committee, speaks at a press conference in front of the LAUSD offices.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Anastasia Foster, center, and Timothy Hayes right and join supporters of LAUSD teachers for a rally in front of Venice High School.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Michael Rothhammer gives a fist bump to Jayden Arriaga, center, and Emely Herrera, kindergartners in an after school program at Reseda Elementary School.(mel melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Thousands gathered in downtown L.A. in December at a march held by the teachers union, which has scheduled a strike for Jan. 14.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles TImes)
Michael Fono, a teacher at Thomas Edison Middle School in South Los Angeles, holds a strike sign at a planning meeting on Jan. 5.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Jasper Anderson, 15, participates in what could be one of his last pre-teachers’ strike baseball practices on Jan. 8 at Crenshaw High School.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Merwinn Rojas, a Foshay Learning Center sixth-grader, works on his homework on Jan. 8. His mother worries he might regress if teachers go on strike.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Kweisi Gharreau, center, parent of two kids at Canfield Elementary School in Beverlywood, speaks to the media in support of teachers following a Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education meeting on Jan. 8.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
In addition to its wage proposal, the L.A. teachers union has pushed for fully staffed campuses with smaller classes and more support staff. In talks this week, the district upped its offer by $75 million to increase staffing. Above, students at Cleveland High in Reseda.
Shannon Stoller picks up her children Presley and Cooper from Pacific Palisades Charter Elementary School. Soller backs the teachers union but is concerned that keeping kids out of class costs schools money.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Austin Beutner(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
School psychologist Fabiana Lamm gets ready to go to work at a San Fernando Valley campus on Jan. 8. She’s hoping a strike will lead to the hiring of more psychiatric social workers.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Students depart Belmont High School in Los Angeles after classes on Jan. 9, the first day of school of 2019, while last-ditch bargaining efforts continued to avert a Los Angeles teachers’ strike.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Espinoza, picking up son Michael from an after-school program at El Sereno Middle School, is concerned that a strike might ground school buses. Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A group supporting the United Teachers Los Angeles gathers at a news conference on strike negotiations Jan. 7.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Memo to L.A. Unified, the teachers union and all concerned:
Can a strike, which could begin Monday, be averted?
Absolutely, and about half a million families in greater Los Angeles would be grateful.
But the adults still have some homework to complete.
I know and respect lots of L.A. Unified teachers, and I count many of them among my closest friends. But I don’t see how they or anyone else will benefit from a short strike that does not address large ongoing concerns; I see only losers, deeper foxholes, more contempt. I don’t see how anyone benefits from a protracted strike, either, which could cripple the region and harm hundreds of thousands of Southern California’s poorest families.
There’s an optimistic theory that if a strike were to endure, the public would rise up in defense of the children and justice would prevail. But nobody will rise up to rescue a long-dysfunctional district in which warring parties have sharp philosophical divides and too little appetite for exploiting shared interests. In a long strike, families will opt out, might not return, and the district may never recover.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 of the last 21 years, and I’ve visited dozens of schools. I’ve been inspired by the service of teachers and principals, aghast at the decline in resources and facilities, irritated by the politicization of public schools.
In that tumultuous time, the number of students has shrunk and administrative turnover has been constant. Over the last two decades, here’s the LAUSD superintendent roster: Zacarias, Cortines, Romer, Brewer, Cortines, Deasy, Cortines, King, Ekchian, Beutner.
Different strategies and leadership styles have produced intractable disputes over testing, new teaching methods, teacher evaluations, charters. We’ve endured the iPad debacle, the student tracking system fiasco, the student molestation scandals.
And how does the report card look in a district where both union and administration officials claim to have the answers, if only the other side would see it their way?
In the last round of standardized tests, only 42% of LAUSD students met or exceeded standards in reading and 32% in math.
If you think teachers are responsible for that, you’re missing the big picture.
If you think district administrators are the culprits, you’re wrong again.
If you think a strike will help, you’re 0 for 3.
The district’s several hundred thousand students, most of whom are children of color, have the same brain capacity and learning potential as students attending private schools and better-funded public schools.
But they start at a big disadvantage, with the majority of them coming from homes at or below the poverty line here in one of the richest places in the world, where middle-income jobs were once plentiful but are now scarce, and where thousands of students live in garages, motels, shelters, vehicles and shared apartments.
Rather than give these kids the best chance to rise above it all, we stuff more than 40 of them into classrooms at schools short on nurses, schools where teachers buy supplies, schools in a district with literally thousands of maintenance calls that go unanswered for months and sometimes years.
We don’t need a strike. We need a unified front, with teams of union members and district officials demanding to know why it was OK to let California fall in national funding-per-pupil rankings, and why it’s OK for school libraries to be closed in the state’s largest district when Sacramento has a projected $21-billion budget surplus.
Brand-new Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a big boost for schools, but delivering on his promise could be a long and complicated process, and local teachers and administrators should be hand in hand, cheering him on, rather than taking shots at each other.
As for local leadership, we’ve gone from a mayor (Antonio Villaraigosa) who wanted to commandeer the entire district to a mayor (Eric Garcetti) who seems barely aware that it exists.
Will no one speak up for the second largest school district in the nation, with its 90% minority population and 80% of students living in poverty?
USC, one of the wealthier educational institutions in the nation and referred to by some as the University of Spoiled Children, raised billions of dollars it didn’t really need way ahead of schedule.
We’ve got no shortage of wealthy liberals tripping over themselves to shell out for photo ops with big-name Democratic office holders and candidates who swing through L.A. like it’s a drive-through bank. Couldn’t a few of them speak up for local students, or cut checks to school donation funds that help pay for supplies, student gear and after-school programs?
To be fair to those on the sidelines, the district might draw more support if it could demonstrate that it can manage its own affairs and avoid the trench warfare that keeps sabotaging progress.
The district has to acknowledge that the growth of charter schools — some of them good and some of them not so much so — is draining resources from traditional schools and the neediest students.
The teachers union has to acknowledge that if a charter offers students a better option, students deserve to take full advantage.
The district needs to find more ways to cut costs, shrink class sizes and pay teachers what they deserve.
The teachers union has to admit the district is on track to go broke, and either start contributing toward healthcare premiums or find ways to trim retiree healthcare costs.
Parents can help by learning English, so they can better monitor their children’s progress in school and open more doors for them.
And everyone has to recognize that whether or not our children are in LAUSD, we all have a stake, if not a moral duty. A well-educated army of future taxpayers serves all of us, and there are great costs ahead for not developing all that potential.
Last fall I spent several weeks at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, where nearly a quarter of the students are classified as homeless, and many eat most of their meals on campus. I was impressed by what was accomplished each day by the principal, teachers and staff despite all the resource shortages, and I’m certain the results would be even better with more support.
The adults on both sides insist their first interest is the students, which has the right ring, but it looks at times as if power and ego come first.
On Monday, if schools are closed, the biggest losers are the kids.
So get it together, keep the doors open, and teach. The children are hungry to learn, and capable of great things.
Get Group Therapy
Life is stressful. Our weekly mental wellness newsletter can help.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.