After nearly two years of a heated contract dispute that resulted in a massive teacher strike, the Los Angeles school district and teachers’ union have reached a tentative agreement.
The deal was announced on Tuesday, the sixth day of the strike, by United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl and Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner in a joint conference. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who mediated the final days of negotiations, was there as well.
A “vast supermajority” of UTLA members voted to ratify the tentative agreement, according to preliminary results, Caputo-Pearl said on Tuesday evening. A final vote count has not yet been tallied, but teachers will return to work tomorrow.
The deal includes a 6 percent pay raise for teachers, class-size reductions that will take place over the next four years, and more school nurses, counselors, and librarians. The union had pushed for more investment in public schools throughout contract negotiations, while the district had said it could not afford the demands.
“The issue has always been, ‘How do we pay for it?,’ and that issue does not go away now that we have a contract,” Beutner said in the press conference. “Now that all students and our educators are heading back to the classrooms, we have to keep our focus on long-term solutions.”
Beutner and Caputo-Pearl both said they would continue to lobby for more funding at the state, county, and local levels.
Caputo-Pearl said the resulting contract agreement “is much more than just a narrow labor agreement,” and that it includes issues related to social and racial justice.
The salary increase includes a 3 percent raise for the 2017-18 school year, and a 3 percent increase retroactive to July 1, 2018. The union had originally asked for a 6.5 percent pay raise, going back to July 2016. But teachers said throughout the strike that salary was not the major sticking point—they were more concerned with working and learning conditions in schools.
In a speech to a fired-up crowd, Caputo-Pearl named a few of the union victories reached in the contract deal. The district, he said, agreed to hire 300 more nurses and 80 more teacher-librarians over two years, and hire at least 17 full-time counselors that will allow secondary schools to maintain a 500:1 student-to-counselor ratio. District officials have also removed a clause in the contract that allowed them to raise class sizes at their discretion.
“Like with any struggle, you gotta win some things, and then you gotta keep on building your power,” Caputo-Pearl said. “It’s going to take a couple years, but we are going to see those class sizes going down, down, down.”
He added that there is also new language in the contract “to protect district neighborhood schools from charter co-locations,” in which a charter school shares a building or campus with a traditional school. He didn’t elaborate on the specifics, but the union had originally asked for a representative to be involved in any discussions of future co-locations.
The district has also agreed to create 30 community schools, which have wraparound social services for students, as well as a focus on the arts, Caputo-Pearl said. And starting next school year, the district and the union will form a committee that will develop a plan to reduce the number of assessments by 50 percent.
The district is going to expand the number of schools that do not conduct “racially discriminatory” random searches of students, Caputo-Pearl said. The union has also formed a task force with the district to look for ways to create more green spaces on school grounds, and created an “immigrant defense fund” to protect immigrant students and families.
“You changed the national narrative, you went on strike for your students,” he said to large applause. “They can never turn that around and say that we’re greedy, selfish teachers, because you struck for your students.”
Still, not all teachers were pleased with the agreement, or the short window of time they had to read the deal and vote on it. Several educators commented on the union’s social media posts, saying that the deal did not go far enough.
Garcetti praised the two sides for their commitment to reaching what he called a “historic” agreement. Bargaining teams from the district and union reached the deal after a marathon 21-hour negotiation session on Monday.
Schools had remained open during the strike, with administrators and some substitutes taking over instruction. Late last week, the principals’ union president asked Beutner to close schools until the strike is over, saying that administrators were experiencing “distress and outright anxiety.” But Beutner said the district had a responsibility to feed, shelter, and teach students, many of whom live in poverty.
Image: Teachers, parents and students picket in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 18. —Damian Dovarganes/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.