Labor conflict continues in Los Angeles school district

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LOS ANGELES — The unsettled labor situation at Los Angeles Unified School District may be leaning closer to a teachers' strike.

Superintendent Austin Beutner released a fact-finding report Tuesday during a press conference in which he professed a willingness to compromise and asked the teachers' union to do the same.

The release of the fact-finding report by the panel’s mediator on Friday marks a milestone at which the union can legally call for a strike.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA president, said Wendesday that UTLA has established Jan. 10 as a strike date with no plans to return to the bargaining table.

“Unless there is a dramatic shift toward saving the school district and a crucial shift in shaping education, we will strike on Jan. 10,” Caputo-Pearl said.

The three-member fact-finding panel, which includes a person chosen by labor, supported the district's salary offer of a 3% raise retroactive to July 1, 2017, and an additional 3% increase as of July 1, 2018. The union wanted a 6.5% raise retroactive to July 2016, smaller class sizes, a full-time nurse for every district school and more special education teachers, according to its 70-page bargaining proposal.

The teacher’s proposal would add an extra $813 million each year to the district's deficit, its officials said.

Beutner’s expressed optimism that the report’s findings could lead to an agreement was not matched by the teachers' union.

United Teachers Los Angeles called Beutner’s remarks a stunt that implied an agreement has been reached, which the teacher’s union emphasized is not the case.

“He wants to create confusion and chaos rather than be a willing partner in the reinvestment and sustainability of our school district,” Caputo-Pearl said.

The teachers’ union held a march in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday that union leaders said attracted 50,000 marchers. The second largest school district in the nation has more than 480,000 students and employs roughly 30,000 teachers.

The fact-finding report broadly, but not universally, endorsed the district’s interpretation of its long-term finances.

According to UTLA, the neutral factfinder confirmed three essential union positions: that LAUSD has $1.8 billion in reserves, that LAUSD should increase staffing of nurses, counselors and other professional staff and that LAUSD should eliminate section 1.5 of the contract, which unilaterally allows the district to increase class size.

UTLA pointed to page four of the report, saying it confirms what the union has been saying about the district’s level of reserves. The union has argued that the district is not in the financial straits school district leaders have claimed and says the district is "hoarding" reserves.

“The District’s reserves in the current fiscal year 2017-2018 is approximately $1.8 billion, which has been increasing in the past 5 years from $500 million in 2013-2014 to the current reserve levels,” according to the report.

The panel supported the union’s proposal to give the staff at a school more input over the use of their campuses by charter schools. Charters are privately operated public schools; most of them are non-union.

The panel also suggested simply dropping other proposals — from both sides — that it considered unlikely to be resolved at the bargaining table.

LAUSD provided the Los Angeles County Office of Education with its first interim budget report and fiscal plan on Dec. 17. LACOE has oversight over the school district budget and fulfills the role of recommending to the California Department of Education if one of the county’s districts needs outside help.

Candi Clark, LACOE’s chief financial officer, confirmed that the agency had received the school district’s budget report.

“We have 30 days from that date to review the report, and will provide our official assessment and response at that time,” Clark said.

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