LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Negotiators for striking Los Angeles teachers and America’s second-largest school district returned to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time since talks collapsed last week, as a walkout by some 30,000 educators ran for a fourth day.
FILE PHOTO: Los Angels public school teachers continue to deal with the rainy weather as their strike enters its third day in Gardena, California, U.S., January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
The teachers, who have gone without a contract for nearly a year, walked off the job on Monday in their first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in 30 years, demanding higher pay, smaller classes and more support staff.
They also have called for curbs on LAUDS’s steady expansion of independently managed charter schools, arguing that these schools divert resources from traditional classroom instruction.
School District Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the demands, if fully met, would place too great a strain on the district’s budget. The union’s president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, has insisted sufficient funding is available given the right priorities.
At a news conference several hours after talks resumed, Caputo Pearl said bargaining teams were still at the table and that negotiations were likely to continue through Friday and into the weekend.
“An agreement is not going to take shape overnight,” he told reporters. “It’s not going to be a quick and easy process, but today there’s been good and hard work on that.”
Pressed on how long a settlement might take, he added, “I can tell you this is not going to be months.”
A district spokeswoman, Shannon Haber, declined comment.
The strike has disrupted classes for nearly 500,000 students, though parents have turned out in large numbers to join teachers on picket lines and at their rallies. A recent Loyola Marymount University survey showed broad public support for the union’s cause across all demographics, especially among parents with school age children.
District officials have kept all 1,200 schools open on a limited basis with a skeleton staff, but attendance has been running at roughly a third of normal or less each day.
CLASS SIZE CITED AS KEY OBSTACLE
Contract talks that had stretched on for 21 months broke down last Friday night after the union rejected the district’s latest offer.
A breakthrough came Wednesday night when Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has voiced support for the teachers’ cause, announced both sides had agreed to reopen negotiations on Thursday, subject to mediation by his office.
The day began at City Hall with a brief, private meeting between Garcetti, Beutner and Caputo-Pearl, who pledged to keep negotiations confidential and to bargain in good faith, the union president recounted. Negotiations formally resumed a short time later, Caputo-Pearl said.
He cited disagreement over teachers’ demands to hire more instructors to reduce class size as “arguably the most fundamental” stumbling block to a settlement. The two sides are closer on salary.
The union is seeking a 6.5 percent pay raise. School district teacher pay currently averages $75,000, according to state figures. The district has offered a 6 percent hike with back pay.
Caputo-Pearl said each side has been in touch California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and the state’s top education official, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, both of whom could prove pivotal in securing extra funds to help close a deal.
“I think the governor is going to play a key role,” the union president said.
Thousands of striking teachers and supporters fanned out across the sprawling district for a series of rallies and picketing again on Thursday.
The walkout in Los Angeles follows a wave of teacher strikes last year across the United States over pay and school funding, including work stoppages in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis; additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis