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Back to School ‘With Our Heads Up’ ~ Teachers Ratify Contract, Ending Six-Day L.A. Teachers Strike

10:39 AM PST on January 23, 2019

Los Angeles, CA – Jan. 18: UTLA Teachers Stike Rally on January 18, 2019. (Brian Feinzimer)

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t’s over. And it only took six days of 30,000 striking L.A. teachers; three 50,000-people marches; a $125-million dollar blow to district coffers because of absent students; and one marathon 21-hour negotiating session that ended early Tuesday morning. Some 80 percent of UTLA members overwhelmingly voted to approve the deal Tuesday night.

With that, the largest teacher’s strike in U.S. history is over.

“The first thing I’m going to do when I see my students is say how incredibly glad I am to be back. And I’m just going to listen to them, just like the district needs to listen to teachers more. I just to want to listen to my students more,” Hazel Witham told L.A. Taco.

Witham is a 10th grade English and AP literature teacher at Venice High, and one of the stars of a viral video where she’s shown dancing with a group of fellow striking teachers on the picket line on the first day of the strike last Monday. She's the one in the polka dots. 

“We’ve really taken our love of public education to the forefront with joy and created a kind of celebration of education with the public," Witham explained.

The new contract still needs approval from L.A. Unified's school board and the L.A. County Office of Education, which looks at the financial impact of the deal. L.A. Unified is expected to approve the deal on January 29, it's next scheduled board meeting.

In a joint press conference Tuesday morning UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl and Superintendent Austin Beutner joined Mayor Garcetti to announce bullet points of the tentative agreement, which was then voted on by UTLA rank and file in the picket lines of their respective schools after they were given complete copies of the agreement. Some complained that the process was rushed.

The specifics of the agreement include:

    • A salary increase for teachers
    • A reduction for class sizes by four students by 2021
    • A school counseling ratio of 500 students to one counselor for every middle and high school
    • One nurse for every school
    • An increase in special education funding
    • A decrease in random searches of students
    • At least one attorney for the district who can address questions and concerns dealing with immigration issues for staff, students, and families.
    • An agreement to have a UTLA representative present in negotiations for charter co-locating in public schools
    • An agreement to increase funding in 30 high-needs “community schools” in the district, and an agreement to protect them from charter takeovers or co-location.

Another section outlines a joint UTLA and LAUSD committee to study district tests and assessments and develop a plan to reduce tests and assessments by 50 percent. Another section requests that the Board of Education vote on a resolution calling on the state to implement a charter school ban and the creation of a new governor's committee on charter schools.

Finally, the union, Mayor Garcetti, and the district agreed to work together to support the Schools and Communities First state proposition for the 2020 ballot, which promises to close the corporate commercial property tax loophole in Prop 13 in order to increase funding to public schools.

RELATED: L.A. Taco Podcast: A Conversation About Teaching and Tacos With an Educator on the Picket Lines    

UTLA Teachers strike rally on January 18, 2019. Photo by Brian Feinzimer.

The strike was clearly "about fully staffed schools and class sizes and not single talking points," said Witham.

 “I think the strike really educated people about the growth of charter schools, too," Witham said. "Hopefully we’ll be able to address the loss of some of our students to charter schools with lower class sizes now. We just want people to know that public education is not broken, we are underfunded.”

Musician Tom Morello lent his talents to the teachers strike on January 18, 2019. Photo by Brian Feinzimer.

Venice High's UTLA chair Soni Lloyd credited the mass outpouring of support from the public for the success of the strike. “All the support we had from teachers, students, parents, our subs who didn’t cross the line, the marches, that’s what energized us to move forward,” Lloyd, a social studies teacher, told L.A. Taco.

Lloyd noted that UTLA was preparing to go door-to-door with a petition to the school board to implement a broader charter school moratorium before the deal with announced. The petition that still might be on the table in the future.

UTLA Teachers Strike Rally on January 18, 2019. Photo by Brian Feinzimer.

“I don’t think the district understood the burden we carried for so long,” Ingrid Villeda told L.A. Taco She’s a fifth grade teacher at 93rd Street Elementary.

“They underestimated how organized we were,” Villeda explained Tuesday afternoon. “Tomorrow the teachers at my school are going to walk into our schoolyard together, in red, lead the school in our school song, and then tell our kids why we fought for them. We can walk back into our school sites with our heads up.”

RELATED: ‘Why Are We Rushing the Vote?’ ~ Teachers Grumble But Overwhelmingly Approve Deal to End Strike

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