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LAUSD teachers’ strike, Day 4: Talks reopen, attendance falls, losses mount

Negotiations resumed Thursday for the first time in a week to settle the teachers’ strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The venue was City Hall; the start time was high noon.

More than nine hours later the two sides were still in talks in the mayor’s office, union leaders said.

To underscore a renewed sense of purpose, Mayor Eric Garcetti opened the talks by meeting with Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, and L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner. Caputo-Pearl and Beutner made a joint commitment not to divulge details.

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Then the negotiating teams for each side went to work.

Caputo-Pearl recounted some permissible details during an early evening news conference at union headquarters that was striking for its toned-down rhetoric.

In the days leading up to the strike, the union had sharply attacked Beutner for releasing proposals to the media before discussing them with the union’s bargaining team. In fact, the union has attacked Beutner for many things, making him a focus of the strike.

But on Thursday, Caputo-Pearl was more conciliatory.

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“We’re going to be combative when we need to be combative,” he said in an interview after the news conference.

He declined to describe what the bargaining teams discussed and who from the mayor’s office was present.

He also said that the union would continue to press Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state for more funding.

Although heavy rain dampened the turnout at some picket lines Thursday, the job action is in full force, exacting a toll on teachers, families and the school district.

On Wednesday, fewer than a third of students came to school, the lowest number since the strike began, according to preliminary attendance figures. L.A. Unified officials have estimated the cost of the strike at $10 million to $15 million per day because state funding is based on student attendance.

Beutner had said for days that he was ready to resume bargaining.

The last round of talks between the L.A. teachers union and the district broke off last Friday. Since then, union leaders have been consumed with strike logistics and events. These included a protest Wednesday night outside the home of school board President Monica Garcia that was organized by a parents group closely allied with the union.

On Thursday morning, a few dozen picketers tried to get a break from the rain and warm up with hot coffee and donated conchas under a canopy in front of 99th Street Elementary.

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Robin Longino, a second-grade teacher at the school, said it was encouraging that talks were resuming and hoped there would be an agreement soon.

“We just hope that the district comes with something demonstrably different than last week,” she said, adding that she hoped Beutner would be in the room.

“We’re just ready for this to be over,” Longino said.

Another second-grade teacher, Yosana Joaquin, said she felt optimistic that she’d be in the classroom next week.

“I feel like we’re going to be back on Tuesday,” she said.

Longino said she felt the strike had been a long time coming and sometimes teachers “have to flex our power” to get meaningful change.

“This is the result of neglect for the last 30 years,” she said.

The school was hit harder on its first day of striking than most others because classified staff participated in a sympathy strike. But those staffers were back at work Tuesday, and by Thursday the school had reached a strike routine of sorts.

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About 575 students are enrolled at 99th Street. About 30% have been going to school.

Principal Marissa Borden gave each passing student a fist bump Thursday morning as they walked by picketers and into the auditorium — for attendance and to eat burritos for breakfast.

The principal remained in the auditorium, along with a number of school classified staff. After breakfast, those in first through third grades stayed in the auditorium doing what was described as a social-emotional learning activity. They sat at long blue tables, talking to each other about how they would deal with difficult situations, like if a classmate “calls you a mean name” or “your sister is bossing you around.”

About 10 special education students have been coming each day. They were in two classrooms with five classified staff who regularly work with them. One substitute oversaw the two classrooms, connected by an open door.

She lives nearby and supports teachers but says she “couldn’t say no” when asked to help with the special education students.

“The rain on top of the strike is impacting attendance,” said Ryan Smith, chief external officer for the Partnership for L.A. Schools, which oversees 99th Street school.

On Thursday, attendance was 136, down from 240 Wednesday, Borden said.

The assistant principal and a credentialed local district employee oversaw fourth- through sixth-graders in two classrooms. The students were working quietly on online reading programs, said Assistant Principal Angela Killens.

Caputo-Pearl repeated Thursday night that negotiations could stretch into the weekend, and said the union was ready to stay at the bargaining table, and to stay on strike, for as long as necessary to reach an agreement.

“We’ve been at this for 21 months and there are some very fundamental issues that there are key difference on,” he said.

He encouraged educators, parents and students to show up at Grand Park Friday morning for a “massive” rally featuring performances from Aloe Blacc and Tom Morello, among others.

“Our bargaining team needs 50,000 people sending them into bargaining with strength,” he said.

UTLA Vice President Cecily Myart-Cruz appealed to members to stay strong despite the rain.

“I know that you’re tired and you’re weary, but we need you to be strong. This is our moment,” she said. “We are on the right side of this fight so stay strong, stay connected and let’s win this.”

Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume


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