A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Thursday cleared the path for a Los Angeles teachers’ strike to start Monday.
Whether it does, however, will depend on negotiations that resume Friday and could stretch into the weekend.
Additional funding from the state budget could help bridge the gap between United Teachers Los Angeles and the L.A. Unified School District. L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner said Thursday he was encouraged enough by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal that he will take an improved offer into Friday’s meeting. He did not offer details.
“Our commitment … is to use every nickel we have to invest in our schools,” Beutner said. “If the state is going to give us a few more nickels, we’ll make sure those go right into the classrooms.”
At issue in court was whether the union gave 10-day notice to the school district that its members would no longer work under terms of the previous contract. This notice provision is laid out in that agreement between the union and the L.A. Unified School District.
The district argued that the union should be barred from walking out because it hadn’t fulfilled its notice obligations.
But Judge Mary H. Strobel disagreed.
“UTLA has the better argument here,” Strobel told attorneys.
Strobel focused on a Jan. 3 union email to the district that met the legal requirement, in her view.
When the union on Wednesday moved its strike date from Jan. 10 to Jan. 14 — 11 days after the Jan. 3 email — it had done enough, she said.
The union had decided to postpone the strike date out of concern about a potential adverse ruling.
Attorneys for L.A. Unified also had argued that the union should be required to start the 10-day notice period over because its leadership had “encouraged” a strike, which is not allowed during such a period.
Strobel did not take issue with the union’s recent activities.
L.A. Unified will be weighing whether to ask a court of appeal to review the judge’s decision, said its deputy general counsel, Alexander Molina.
Attorneys for the district asserted that it may still pursue a breach-of-contract lawsuit, but that would play out in standard legal time, perhaps over the course of six months to a year, attorneys said.
Negotiations, meanwhile, appear unlikely to avert a walkout because the two sides have made only limited progress since they resumed talking this week.
The lack of trust between the parties was evident on Wednesday, when UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl demanded information from the district that was not directly related to bargaining.
First, Caputo-Pearl said he wants details of the district’s confidential reorganization plan. The union leader has expressed concern that Beutner plans to turn campuses over to privately run charter schools, most of which are non-union.
Beutner strongly denies such a goal, and has said his reorganization strategy is still being developed.
The union also wants the district to prove it’s made progress in creating “community schools” — defined by Caputo-Pearl as campuses that have social services for families, rich curricula and leadership roles for teachers and parents. Before Beutner joined L.A. Unified in May, the school board passed a resolution in support of such schools.
Caputo-Pearl also said he asked for a briefing on district efforts to increase enrollment. He has accused district leaders of trying to starve schools by hoarding funding and allowing enrollment to drop.
Again, Beutner has denied such an intent.
Caputo-Pearl spoke just outside district headquarters, in a small entryway, surrounded by his bargaining team. Minutes later, it was Beutner’s turn, in a second-conference room secured by a phalanx of school police officers.
To emphasize the district’s budget limitations, Beutner announced that the Los Angeles County Office of Education has assigned a team of fiscal experts to work with LAUSD to eliminate deficit spending.
He also talked of his trip that day to Sacramento — to brief lawmakers on the district contract offer and plans to cope with a strike. He said as he often does that the district has no choice but to live within its means and that he shares the union’s goal of increased state funding.
A day later, with the release of details from the proposed state budget, Beutner sounded cautiously optimistic.
“Yesterday, we spoke with state leaders in Sacramento about our shared commitment to public education, and the budget announced today by the governor is a strong statement of those values,” said the superintendent. “We expect the final budget adopted in June will reflect these values and provide additional funding for Los Angeles Unified.”