The Los Angeles teachers union and the school district will return to the bargaining table at noon Thursday at City Hall, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday night.
Union leaders had announced earlier in the evening that they were ready to resume talks with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Thursday — the fourth day of their strike — and to take up Garcetti’s offer to mediate.
“Following discussions with the leadership of UTLA and LAUSD, both parties have agreed to resume bargaining tomorrow at noon at City Hall. The mayor’s office will facilitate these negotiations,” that office said in a statement.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl called on students, teachers and parents to remain on the picket line and show up for a rally Friday in Grand Park to send the bargaining team into what could be a full weekend of negotiations leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“We want to send them off powerfully, with a huge action on Friday,” Caputo-Pearl said.
The district did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The announcement came after a third day of picketing in the rain in Los Angeles teachers’ first strike in 30 years.
In a morning news conference, Caputo-Pearl accused district Supt. Austin Beutner of sending mixed messages about whether students who missed school during the strike would be punished.
“He is trying to create chaos and confusion and fear,” the union president said.
Student attendance, meanwhile, dipped to its lowest total yet Wednesday.
The preliminary count, which includes nearly all schools, was 132,411, about 27% of district enrollment. This figure compares with Tuesday’s adjusted total of about 35%, which was a slight improvement over Monday, the first day of the strike.
In all, the district says it has lost $69.1 million in state funding based on attendance. Subtract the $10 million a day in wages it hasn’t had to pay its striking workforce, and that’s a net loss of $39.1 million.
That news was not the only discouraging development for Beutner. The head of the administrators union, Juan Flecha, floated the idea of closing campuses because of “dire and unsafe working conditions.”
And the school board’s thinly united front cracked open when board member Scott Schmerelson issued a statement that essentially sided with striking teachers: “Instead of repeating the ‘doom, gloom and heading for bankruptcy’ predictions that we have heard for decades, I believe that it is Mr. Beutner’s job to honestly identify sources of funding buried in our existing budget, and the revenue growth predicted for next year, that could be creatively sourced and invested in the students who need smaller classes and adequate support services now.”
Beutner’s view of the district’s financial limits has been supported by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which reviews the budgets of county school systems.
Late Wednesday afternoon, activists targeted the only board member who has made public appearances with Beutner this week — board President Monica Garcia.
About 100 parents, students and educators, led by the advocacy group Reclaim Our Schools L.A., swarmed the street of Garcia’s home in Montecito Heights around 5:30 and demanded she meet with them and hear their concerns. Half a dozen police officers watched as five protesters walked up Garcia’s steps and knocked on her door. They waited for 10 minutes before police asked them to leave, then held a news conference on the sidewalk.
“We came to address her — she sent the police to deal with us,” Cesar Castrejon, an activist with Reclaim Our Schools L.A., said on the sidewalk. Some in the crowd jeered; some yelled, “Monica, come out!”
Negotiations between the union and district broke off late Friday after more than 20 months of bargaining. The two sides have been unable to come to a resolution to educators’ demands for better pay, more support staff and smaller classes. District officials have said they don’t have the money to cover everything teachers are asking for, while union leaders have accused the district of “hoarding” funds.
Caputo-Pearl said Wednesday night that the union and district leadership had spoken to Garcetti and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who just took office. Garcetti said during a news conference earlier in the day that he hoped formal talks between the union and the district would resume Thursday.
“I urge both sides to keep working around the clock,” the mayor said.
Striking in the rain, meanwhile, hasn’t been easy on teachers. On Wednesday morning, an English teacher at Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood was hit by a car while picketing outside the school. The extent of his injuries was not immediately clear.
Lucia Rodriguez, an English teacher at Banning High School who has been out each day before sunrise, said that her lower back hurt and the joints in her legs felt sore, but that she continued to picket to try to get her students what they need — smaller classes and district funding for extra support staff. Rodriguez said she was concerned that the two sides still weren’t talking.
“After the first day, it was so hard to get up,” she said.
Rodriguez, 46, stood by the gate outside the Wilmington school Wednesday morning, wearing a poncho covered by a sandwich board listing the union’s demands. She had sealed her posters with tape to try to protect them, but red ink was running off the edges.
“I need them to get to the table,” she said of both sides, adding that she’d be willing to compromise on salary but not on her core issues.
The strike has put parents and students in a challenging spot, forcing them to decide whether students should go to school, stay home or join their teachers on the picket lines.
Angel Solorio, 18, went to school Monday and Tuesday at Banning High, afraid that absences would be held against him. He spent those days watching movies in the auditorium with hundreds of other teens, then was given worksheets to fill out, summarizing the plots. Solorio said he refused to do so, “in protest.”
On Wednesday, he decided to up the ante on his protest and join his teachers on the picket line with his marching band drum. He stood on the corner with more than 100 picketers and led chants of “UTLA” to the beat.
Caputo-Pearl encouraged students and parents to bring that energy into the rest of the week, especially Friday, when the sun is expected to finally reappear over L.A.
“Make these next two days vibrant, make them innovative, make them creative,” he said. “Keep your picket lines strong…. We can’t show one iota of relenting.”