LA Teachers Poised to Pick Up the Strike Baton
Los Angeles teachers showed up in force for the March for Public Education on Saturday to protest large class sizes, low pay, a shortage of nurses and counselors, over-testing, and the unregulated growth of charter schools. Their union, United Teachers Los Angeles, estimated that more than 50,000 people participated. The action began with a rally at City Hall, followed by a march to the Broad Museum, capped off with another rally there to highlight billionaire Eli Broad's efforts to privatize schools.
But Broad wasn't the billionaire drawing the most ire from the protesters. That billionaire was LA Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner, a former investment banker with zero experience as an educator, but lots of experience in downsizing companies. Beutner was a deputy mayor under Antonio Villaraigosa (another fervent charter supporter), a publisher of the LA Times, and a board member of a charter school operator. His selection to become superintendent by a pro-charter majority in the Board of Education was controversial because the school board was recently flipped in what was "the most expensive school board election in the country." (Prior to a $1.9 million influx of cash into the race from Eli Broad to support pro-charter advocates, the board majority had been pro-teachers' union.)
LAUSD, the second largest school system in the country, is wracked by declining student enrollment, rising pension and healthcare costs, and underperforming schools. Critics like UTLA say charter schools are exacerbating these problems.
After almost two years of contract negotiations set to run out next month; and with the overwhelming authorization of its membership inspired from the wave of teacher strikes in Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia earlier this year; the union is poised to go on strike. It has not done so in nearly 30 years. Given the impasse between UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl and Beutner, whom Caputo-Pearl accuses of hoarding a $2 billion budget surplus, a strike appears likely.
"I think 50,000 people had a message for the superintendent, which is: we're serious about this," Caputo-Pearl told me outside the Broad Museum. "This is a fight that he's not going to be able to cynically just try to make a fight that's only about salary. It's about class size and our students, nurses, counselors, et cetera."
Judging from the crowd's enthusiasm for chanting "strike, strike, strike," Beutner ought to believe that Caputo-Pearl means business.