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‘They Can’t Be Trusted’: L.A. Teachers Reject Latest District Raise Offer, Enter Mediation

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]os Angeles Unified Teachers this week inched closer to their first city-wide strike in decades. L.A. Unified and UTLA concluded Day One of contractually mandated mediation Thursday after rejecting a last-minute district proposal as insulting and untrustworthy.

“We’ve learned from them in the past that they cannot be trusted,” UTLA West Area rep Larry Shoham told L.A. Taco, referring to the district.

The union has already overwhelmingly approved a strike but must legally go through mediation before that can occur. Union leaders and members had previously told L.A. Taco they expect a strike as early as the first week of October. They stepped back from that Thursday saying at a press conference that the union would respect the mediation process. The next mediation session is set for Oct. 3.

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The district did not comment on mediation – the sides have agreed to not disclose details of the mediated negotiations – except to say that it was happening. At the press conference, union secretary Arlene Inouye read a letter that blasted L.A. schools superintendent Austin Beutner for being “unqualified, untrustworthy, and unavailable,” and for sending a disingenuous offer that was first published in the L.A. Times before being sent to the union.

“It is disheartening that you [Austin Beutner] do not have the same dedication and respect for this process, your own employees, or even the public,” she read. “You have stalled mediation for 56 days, tried to cut backroom deals, threatened teachers with retaliation, kicked us out of so-called community events, booked RSVP-only meet-and-greets, refused to answer questions from the public, bargained in the media, hid information from the public and spread damaging lies.”

Shoham explained that the much bandied 6 percent raise – offered two days before the mediation deadline – was actually a 3 percent raise with a promise for another 3 if and when the funds become available to make it happen. “We agreed to this type of deal before back in 2014 and 2015 with regards to reduced classroom size.” The union and district had previously agreed to the implementation of a plan for smaller classrooms and more teachers but Shoham says that never came to fruition.

“They invoked a section of the contract that allowed them to unilaterally raise class sizes in a fiscal crisis,” Shoham explained.

The district maintains a fiscal crisis is currently underway. Beutner has repeatedly said the district would “run out of money” if it gave the teachers the raise. But Shoham says the school has the money. “We believe the district has the money to fund the teachers contract demands,” he said. “The cost of living in Los Angeles has risen about 27 percent over the past decade, all we are asking for is a 6 percent raise.”

The union is also hoping for the previously promised smaller classroom sizes and a scale back in the growth of co-located charter schools. Co-location is the process of creating charter schools on LAUSD campuses. Inouye said that “privatization drain” takes away $600 million dollars annually from the public schools.

Charter school advocates argue that the proximity leads to improvement across the campus. The practice, public school advocates argue, also forces even larger classrooms by dividing the campus. It also creates a financial and social divide between students in a public inner-city school and those in a well-resourced charter school on the same campus, critics argue.

“We call on you to reinvest in our schools,” Inouye said. “That means using the $1.8 billion dollars in reserve to fund the building blocks of healthy schools.” The union also wants support for Special Education, greater access to technology, and funding for greater student support.

“We are committed to our contract demands,” Shoham told L.A. Taco. “And what they represent for a reimagining of public education — one that is fully funded, fully resourced and deeply rooted in the needs of our communities.”

RELATED: L.A. Teachers Strike Vote Update: LAUSD and Union Exchange Accusations

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