Educators on strike – What’s the deal?

LAUSD teachers look for change


Artwork by Vaishnavi Ramprasad/Talon

LAUSD teachers go on strike to enact change in their district

Recently, educators, students and families protested the Los Angeles Unified School District. The event made front-page headlines in the Los Angeles Times for 10 days straight Jan. 14-23.

On the first day of what’s become known as the United Teachers of Los Angeles strike, around 31,000 members of the teacher’s union were absent from classrooms, according to the LA Times. Only about a third of all students showed up to school that day.

The goal of this strike was to obtain smaller class sizes, teacher pay raise and more support staff on campuses. In the end, after over a year of negotiations including the strike, those goals will be actualized. According to CNN, an investment in nurses, librarians, counselors as well as class size reduction will cost LAUSD $175 million over the next two school years, while costs will increase to $228 million for the 2021-22 school year.

“Public education is the ultimate labor-management collaboration,” LAUSD posted on their website during the negotiations with the teachers union. “This is a historic moment in Los Angeles as many more people are engaged in the conversation about the importance of public education.”

To provide a scope of LAUSD, there are over 600,000 students in the district’s roughly 1,300 schools, making it the second largest district in the country.

“We know teachers deserve to be paid more and a working environment where kids can have the best possible education. We are committed to providing teachers with the best offer and as much support as we can, given Los Angeles Unified’s resources,” LAUSD’s website homepage read.

English teacher Leslie Miller worked for LAUSD for eight years before coming to teach at Oak Park High School.

“I started my career in the inner city and worked in the San Fernando Valley, and I also worked at private schools,” Miller said.

The New York Times wrote that Latinos make up roughly 75 percent of all students in LAUSD, while whites and African-Americans each account for less than 10 percent of enrollment. Most students come predominantly low-income areas, which may affect their educational experiences.

“The cycle of poverty is one that dictates the status of students in lower socioeconomic status who are struggling to have their basic needs met,” Miller said. “And I saw this first hand with different hygiene, [and lack of] proper nutrition, proper parental supervision, solid parents with solid parenting skills.”

Infographic courtesy of Olivia Buccieri and Daniel Conway

Over 80 percent of students in Los Angeles qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to the New York Times, while only 5 percent of students in Oak Park Unified School District qualify.

“In terms of geographic size and in the number of students, many of the students are impoverished. It falls on the district to provide basic needs and services such as meals,” Miller said.

But that’s not true for all students. Over recent years, LAUSD has invested more time and money into private and charter school education. Teachers and students who went on strike were also protesting this development. Another solution reached will be the reduction in the number of charter schools and a refocusing of resources toward community education.

Some classrooms in the district have over 50 students.

“I spoke to some friends who are still in the district and they want 25 students in the elementary school classes, and 35 for middle and high classes,” Miller said. “And then there’s everything that comes with having class sizes too big and not being able to get to know your students and not being able to address their needs in a personal, hands-on way, just because you are dealing with so many of them.”

History teacher and Oak Park Teachers Association and Union President Russ Peters said that these class sizes would be impossible to manage if it were at Oak Park High School. As the union leader, he represents about 245 teachers in Oak Park.

Peters is a member of the OPTA Negotiation Team and negotiates with the district for possible pay raise for teachers, sometimes they negotiate for increased healthcare benefits. In the last six years or so, he said there’s been a 19.5 percent teacher pay raise for OPUSD teachers. Class sizes are also an important topic of discussion during meetings.

“OPTA fights very hard to keep class sizes as low as we possibly can. Sometimes I’ll have a class of 37, this year I have a class of 23. It all balances out here,” Peters said. “Being a smaller district, it’s much easier to support and manage our number of students.”

Peters grew up going to LAUSD schools and knows what it’s like. He said that many years ago they were planning on breaking up the district into 11 smaller districts, to ameliorate for resource usage and class sizes.

“Everyone says it’s not about money — it’s always about money,” Peters said.

LAUSD has around $2 billion in reserve funds. That may sound like a lot of money, but in relation to the size of the district, it’s relatively average.

Peters said OPUSD has both a general fund and reserve fund. The reserve fund is strictly “rainy day funds” — “that money is not touched, it is there in case of an economic catastrophe,” Peters said. On the other hand, state funding goes toward the general fund which pays for teacher salaries, among other things and is managed by the Local Control Funding Formula.

Teachers in Oak Park receive a median yearly salary of about $77,000, while educators in LA receive about $75,508 a year. All teacher salaries are public information. Oak Park’s highest salary for a secondary school teacher working full-time is around $88,000, while the starting salary is about $50,000, according to Transparent California and Superintendent Tony Knight.

Teacher salaries are determined by degree earned from college (a Master’s degree would earn more than a Bachelor’s), number of extra units they’ve complete post-secondary and amount of years teaching. Some teachers teach extra classes, serve as department chairs or on extra committees, taking up special roles that can increase their salaries. A

Furlough days occur when school days are cut due to lack of funding and teacher’s don’t receive pay for leave.

“We were very fortunate to not take furlough days,” Peters said. “This is a great place to work, it’s relatively a very small district, there’s a lot of support here.”

Mindy Shim, Communications Manager for LAUSD Board of Education President Mónica García, wrote to the Talon that with solutions now in agreements, the district is looking at raising graduation rates in the coming years.

“We are thankful to the Governor and the County for dedicating more funds to schools,” Shim wrote. “We thank Mayor [Eric] Garcetti for mediating.”

Nurses are on campuses an average of two days a week, thousands of students assigned to singular counselors — LAUSD is making some big changes.

“Personally, I feel like anything the LAUSD teachers felt they needed to ask for and get, they deserve. They are the ones in the trenches,” Miller said. “While I’m afraid this strike and meeting the demands of the strike feels like yet another band-aid being put on these larger district and societal problems, I hope it will at least pave the way for more discussions, more dialogue, more problem solving and more solutions for the greater problems that LAUSD faces.”