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With LAUSD teachers set to strike, union's call-in town hall asks parents for support

With LAUSD teachers set to strike, union's call-in town hall asks parents for support
LAUSD teachers, retired teachers and parents gather signs outside Venice High School on Thursday to show their support for a teachers' strike. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Two days before a strike in the nation’s second largest school district, parents all over Los Angeles received automated phone calls encouraging them to connect to a teachers union town hall designed to answer questions and ramp up support.

During the live event Saturday afternoon, United Teachers Los Angeles Vice President Gloria Martinez and L.A. Unified parent Josh Rutkoff took questions from parents who wanted to know whether their children would be punished for missing school, what it would take to avert a strike and when they would know for sure that the strike was on.

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“We’ve gotten to a point where we can’t turn back” unless the district offers a proposal that addresses more of the teachers’ and students’ needs, Martinez said.

“Rain or shine, we are on the line,” she said.

Some callers prefaced their questions with words of encouragement for the teachers and asked how to help, though not all were unequivocally supportive. One woman, who told the town hall she negotiates for a living, said that both the union and the district need to come to the table and expressed disappointment that “both UTLA and LAUSD aren’t joining forces” to demand more state funding.

Martinez, in response, talked about the union’s statewide efforts to get a Proposition 13 reform measure on the 2020 state ballot— aimed at increasing tax revenues from commercial and industrial property.

“It’s kind of hard to negotiate with a partner that doesn’t seem to be really honoring the process that we’ve been involved in for 20 months,” she said of the school district.

Los Angeles Unified made new offers to the teachers union during the week leading up to the strike. In the latest bid on Friday afternoon, the district offered to pay for every elementary school to have a full-time nurse and to lower class sizes by about two students at middle schools. That offer built on one earlier in the week that also offered a small decrease in class sizes. Supt. Austin Beutner said Friday that he was able to offer such improvements with the hope of new money from the county and the governor’s budget proposal.

“Every nickel that we’re receiving, we’re investing in our classrooms,” Beutner said at a news conference Friday.

Martinez pointed out during the call that the improvements in the district’s new offers would last only a year, and said the union is looking for a long-term solution.

She punctuated her responses with mini-surveys, asking the callers to press 1 if they supported the teachers, and if they were willing to call Beutner “and tell him to negotiate in good faith.”

Several parents asked whether they or their children would be punished for missing school during a strike. Rutkoff called such messaging “bullying and threats and scare tactics” and said his children would not go to school.

“It sounds like utter chaos. It doesn’t sound like a nurturing learning environment,” he told listeners. A union spokeswoman later said thousands had been on the line.

Martinez and Rutkoff also made sure to reiterate that some parents had no choice but to take their kids to school — and that that was OK.

“Families have different circumstances. We are very respectful and understanding,” Martinez said.

The district has said repeatedly that the strike is not a valid excuse to miss school, but on Saturday spokeswoman Shannon Haber wrote in an email: “Students’ records will not be impacted by this needless strike.”

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L.A. Unified called on the union Friday night to come back with a counteroffer, and Haber said parents should call the district with questions.

“UTLA leadership continues to intentionally mislead the students, families and communities of Los Angeles who will be hurt by a strike that will do nothing to improve our public schools,” Haber wrote. She said Los Angeles families with questions should call the district’s parent hotline at (213) 443-1300 or visit LAUSD.net for more information.

Times staff reporter Howard Blume contributed to this story.

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