Los Angeles teachers braved cold, drizzly weather Monday morning as they walked off the job in their first strike in 30 years to demand smaller class sizes, more support staff at schools and better pay.
Schools will be open but it’s unknown how many students will head to classes in the nation’s second-largest school system. Some will be joining their teachers on the picket line.
For those who go to school, the day is unlikely to follow routines as volunteers, an estimated 400 substitutes and 2,000 staffers from central and regional offices fill in for 31,000 teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors. At 10 schools, nonteaching employees will take part in a sympathy strike, which will create additional headaches as administrators struggle to manage such tasks as preparing and serving meals.
It was still dark when physical education teacher Lin Joy Hom rolled up about 6:15 a.m. to the gate that leads to the Marshall High School parking lot on Griffith Park Boulevard, with “UTLA strong” emblazoned in red letters on her car windows. Fellow P.E. teacher Orquida Labrador — Hom’s coworker and a 1987 Marshall alumnus — hurried to help her unload water bottles and doughnuts for the educators on the picket line.
A runner yelled “Good luck!” as he passed by, and drivers honked their car horns in support. The teachers waved to a vice principal as he drove in, but gave a hard time to someone they didn’t recognize.
“Come on!” said Spanish teacher Adrian Arellano.
“I’m an administrator,” the woman said as she drove past.
“I’m with y’all, but we got to go to work,” an administrative assistant told the teachers as she drove in.
Arellano said his classes have 46 students, which is too many. It’s a main reason he’s striking. That’s true too for Dee Dee Paakkari, who has taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 33 years. She participated in the last strike in 1989, which lasted about nine days. That one was more about money, she said, but this time it’s class size.
Paakkari, an orchestra and rock ‘n’ roll teacher at Marshall, pointed to her darkened classroom just past the gates. Normally, she would have been teaching her 7 a.m. orchestra class, she said.
“If you’ve got a rock band class and you’ve got six kids in each band, you’ve got eight rock bands,” she said. The room really only fits five, so some of the more than 40 students in the class spend their time sitting around.
During the last teachers’ strike roughly half of the district students went to school.
The plan at many schools for this strike is to gather students into large groups, so they can be supervised by fewer adults. It’s not clear how much learning will be going on outside of the real-time civics lessons happening on the streets.
At a 7:30 a.m. news conference, local union leaders will be joined by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who heads the National Education Assn.
At 10:30 a.m., the union has scheduled a rally at Grand Park, across from City Hall, followed by a march to school district headquarters, just west of downtown.
A strike became inevitable when negotiations broke off late Friday afternoon between the L.A. Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles. District officials have sweetened their previous offer based on improved funding for all school districts in the state budget proposal unveiled last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The district also received a boost from Los Angeles County supervisors, who could vote Tuesday on a plan to provide L.A. Unified up to $10 million for nursing and mental-health services.
Based on these developments, the latest district offer includes a full-time nurse for every elementary school. At present, the district pays for one day of nursing per week, although many schools use discretionary funds to provide additional days.
The district says its current offer adds about $130 million and 1,200 positions to previous proposals. Besides full-time nursing, the offer presented Friday would lower class sizes by about two students at middle schools. It built on a proposal from earlier that week, in which the district said it would drop the maximum class sizes in grades four to six from 36 to 35 and in high school from 42 to about 39. (The average classes already are smaller.)
Schools with the greatest needs would see larger class-size reductions — of about four students per class. Also, every secondary school would get a librarian, which some lack now. And high schools would get an extra academic counselor.
The increased staffing, however, would be guaranteed only for one year. District officials said this was necessary because the funds are coming out of a one-time reserve. But for teachers union President Alex Caputo-Pearl, the temporary nature of the increased staffing made the proposal a nonstarter.
The two sides are not that far apart on salary. L.A. Unified is offering 6% spread out over the first two years of a three-year deal. The union wants 6.5% all at once, retroactive a year earlier.
The two sides are so far behind in negotiations that even if they reached a new three-year deal this week, it would be in effect for only 18 months. The previous contract expired in June 2017.