Teaching Profession

L.A. School Board Approves Teacher Contract and Calls for a Pause on Charter Growth

By Madeline Will — January 29, 2019 3 min read
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A week after the teacher strike concluded in Los Angeles, the city’s board of education has unanimously approved the contract deal with the union.

That’s despite regulators from the county who oversee the district warning that the agreement is not financially “sustainable on an ongoing basis.”

Meanwhile, the board also voted 5-1 to pass a resolution calling for a charter school moratorium that the union had pushed for in negotiations. That could not be officially part of the labor agreement, but the district agreed to put the resolution in front of the board for a vote. The resolution calls on the state to stop the growth of charter schools in the city for eight to 10 months while state officials study the issue.

The contract deal that ended the six-day strike included a 6 percent pay raise for teachers, guarantees of class-size reductions, a pledge from the district to hire more librarians, nurses, and counselors, and a slew of other social-justice commitments.

Last week, United Teachers Los Angeles members voted 81 percent to ratify the deal. (About 73 percent of members voted.)

“This contract is not the end, it’s the beginning,” said Superintendent Austin Beutner in his opening remarks to the board Tuesday.

With this contract, the district is putting “every nickel” it has into the classrooms, he said, but more sources of funding are needed. Beutner said the contract cannot make up for “40 years of underfunding of public education,” and pointed to the need for more state funding. The contract deal was based on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal, which increases school funding, as well as money from the county to hire more school nurses.

“This contract is far from perfect,” Beutner said, adding that he has gotten complaints from many stakeholders. “I guess if everyone is a bit unhappy, we might have found the right compromise.”

Still, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which oversees the district, said the district will need to develop a “fiscal stabilization plan” showing how it will cover the costs associated with the agreement.

Board member Nick Melvoin addressed the county’s concerns before the vote, saying, “It’s up to us, collectively, to make [the contract] sustainable. It’s up to us to not renege on the promises we made to teachers.”

He said the district would need to make hard decisions for cutting expenditures and work with the larger community to “grow the pie.”

A Charter School Dilemma

While the contract deal was approved without much controversy, tensions were high at the board meeting as members voted in favor of a moratorium on charter school growth for eight to 10 months. (The board doesn’t have control over charter school growth; the resolution asks the state to take on this issue.)

Many parents delivered emotional pleas to the board not to ask the state for a pause on charter school growth, saying that charter schools have offered more opportunities for their students. Fewer people spoke in favor of the resolution, but some educators and parents asked the board to invest in traditional public schools instead.

Los Angeles has more charter schools than anywhere else in the country. There are 224 independent charter schools, that are publicly funded but privately run.

Board member Richard Vladovic, who sponsored the resolution, stressed that the resolution is not anti-choice, but rather a chance to step back and look at the effects of charter schools in the district.

The teachers’ union has claimed that unregulated charter growth “drains $600 million” from district schools each year. Teachers have pointed to the per-pupil funding that follows students to charters as a reason for the poor conditions in traditional schools.

Beutner had supported the resolution, saying that it had helped the union and district end the strike, and that it “makes sense to me to pause while experts, not advocates, study all of the issues and propose what adjustments, if any, might be appropriate to the law to provide a path for the next 20 years.”

Image: Thousands of striking Los Angeles Unified teachers gathered in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Jan. 22. —Richard Vogel/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.