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Teachers strike at L.A. charter schools too, a first for California

Teachers strike at L.A. charter schools too, a first for California
Maria Corona, center, a teacher at the Accelerated Schools, a group of public charter schools in South Los Angeles, joins fellow educators as they picket outside the school on second day of the Los Angeles teachers' strike. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Teachers at three charter schools in South Los Angeles walked off the job Tuesday, marking the first time ever that a charter school organization in California went on strike, according to the teachers union.

The strikers joined thousands of other L.A. educators who began a strike a day earlier against the L.A. Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school system.

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Charter schools are publicly funded, but can be privately operated. They are also exempt from union contracts affecting school districts.

Although it’s rare, teachers at charter schools may organize and seek representation from a union, just as the teachers at the Accelerated Schools did. This is said to be only the second time nationally that instructors at a charter school organization went on strike.

Union representatives for teachers at the Accelerated Schools said more than a year and a half of negotiations with school management failed to yield a contract. At a morning news conference, teachers and their supporters chanted and waved signs outside Accelerated’s campus on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Founded by two former Los Angeles Unified teachers, the three Accelerated schools serve 1,700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

As passing cars honked in support, teachers stood on the sidewalk and spoke about the constant turnover at Accelerated. Between 2016 and 2018, there was a 50% turnover rate among teachers at the school, the union said.

“Teachers leave and find better opportunities,” said first-grade teacher Kari Rivera. “Better salaries, better health benefits and better job protections.”

Accelerated co-founder and CEO Johnathan Williams said in a statement that “Accelerated Schools is disheartened that the United Teachers Los Angeles leadership has called for a strike, putting our students and families in the middle of contract demands.”

His statement said the union last year had agreed on a three-year contract “for a significant salary raise of more than 17%, which teachers now enjoy.”

He also said the school’s pending proposal includes $17,000 per year in benefits coverage. The union rejected the school’s latest offer, “which included a process for teachers with strong performance evaluations to receive a guaranteed two-year contract with a $2,000 bonus upon completion,” Williams said.

Tuesday’s action followed a recent four-day walkout at the Acero charter school network in Chicago. It also came one day after 31,000 UTLA members walked off about 900 school sites across LAUSD.

Charter schools serve about 1 in 5 L.A. public school students and are either nonunion or have separate union contracts.

UTLA represents more than 75 teachers at Accelerated. Nearly nearly all of the teachers stayed away from work Tuesday, said Hong Bui, the union’s chief negotiator with Accelerated.

UTLA’s impasse with LAUSD focuses on class size and charter school expansion. On Tuesday, protesters outside Accelerated raised the same points. Bui said contract negotiations broke down over other criteria, including binding arbitration in the grievance procedure, job security and health benefits.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, joined picketers outside the school. She said the charter school’s management has “turned the charter system on its end and has made it ideologically against the teachers, against parents, against the community.”

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“Teachers are not widgets, children are not test scores. And we need to have teachers who are stable, stable people in children’s lives,” Weingarten said. “So that they know year after year, they can count on teachers in the school.

“These are things that are basic to education. Frankly, these are things that every middle-class or rich parent demands of the schools that their kids go to.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, also marched with teachers and told reporters the two labor disputes have similarities.

“Accelerated management has money to take care of the issues on the table,” he said. “Also in common, is that Accelerated management is being driven by ideology, looking at teachers as disposable and not as indispensable. “

He called it “an historic week for educators and for public education in Los Angeles.”

High school Spanish teacher Ashley Avilla said she was striking in part to protest the size of her classes at Accelerated, which typically have 38 students.

“It’s hard to give them individual attention,” she said.

However, freshman Mark Arroyo, 14, said some of his classes at Accelerated are too small. There’s not enough participation when there are fewer students, he said.Standing outside Accelerated on Tuesday after school ended, Arroyo said his classes were taught by substitutes so it felt like a “normal day.”

Arroyo said he supported the striking teachers: “They have the right idea trying to make the school a better place.”

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