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Despite Last-Minute Negotiations, Los Angeles Teacher Strike Is Still On

The Los Angeles teachers' union and school district spent hours at the bargaining table on Monday to avert an impending strike. But the contract negotiations yielded few results, and a teacher strike is still scheduled for Jan 10.

"We were surprised today that the district came in with so little to offer, so unless something changes pretty significantly, there will be a strike in the city of Los Angeles," said United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl in a news conference Monday evening.  

He called the district's latest offer "unacceptable." The union is asking for a 6.5 percent pay raise, along with smaller class sizes and more school nurses, counselors, social workers, and librarians. UTLA withdrew six of its demands at the session today, including its call for reducing the number of required standardized tests. 

The Los Angeles Unified school district is proposing a 6 percent salary increase. In a statement, the district said it increased its offer by $75 million to invest a total of $105 million to reduce class sizes and hire more staff. That money would add nearly 1,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians to the district's more than 900 schools.

But Caputo-Pearl said the salary increase is tied to concessions on health-care benefits for future employees, and the additional staffing is not enough to both reduce class sizes and add new support staff. 

A statement from the district said that it had increased its offer to better serve students. District officials have long held that they agree with some of the union's proposals but cannot afford them.  

"We are extremely disappointed and frustrated that union leadership has turned down our offer and—once again—failed to put forth any proposal to try and resolve the issues of class size and salary," the district's statement said. "A strike would harm the students and families we serve and will not help resolve the issues our district faces."

The two sides will resume bargaining on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, Caputo-Pearl said, the district and the union will be fighting in court about whether the strike should be delayed. 

The district plans to argue that the union did not provide the legally required notice of a strike, Caputo-Pearl said. On Sunday, UTLA had announced that it would go to court "proactively" this week to respond to this threat. Depending on the court's decision, the strike date could be moved to Monday, Jan. 14. 

Special Education Dispute

Late last week, a federal judge blocked the district's attempt to prevent special education teachers from going on strike. The district had said those teachers were necessary to provide services to students with special needs, since schools will remain open during the strike. 

Still, the judge left the door open for future legal action by the district once the strike begins, and Los Angeles Unified did not rule that out. In a statement, the district said it will "take all steps necessary to protect the health, safety, and educational rights of students with disabilities, as well as of all students, including the filing of legal actions."

There hasn't been a teachers' strike in Los Angeles since 1989. That strike lasted nine days. 

Caputo-Pearl said the mood at the bargaining table "was diplomatic, but tense at times." 

"We don't think there was a lot of progress made today, and frankly, we're sick and tired of [Superintendent] Austin Beutner from using legal maneuvers" to block the strike, Caputo-Pearl said. 

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