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LAUSD teacher strike hits close to home

Los Angeles Unified School District teachers on strike outside of L.A. City Hall on Monday, Jan. 14. Photo by David Muñoz.


Alhambra , CA United States

If today were any ordinary mid-January Monday, Los Angeles Unified School District students and teachers would be hiding out from the rain in their classrooms, getting through the day’s lessons.

Instead, LAUSD’s teachers are on strike for the first time in 30 years, wearing red and marching throughout L.A. After two years, negotiations broke down between the teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles and the district. The sticking points include class sizes, pay raises and the hiring of school nurses, counselors and other staff.

The district said that they lack the funding to meet these demands. UTLA said that the district is withholding $2 billion in surplus funds, according to KABC.

“I have been teaching for 15 years, and it’s not just a job for me,” said Pilar Espino, a fifth grade teacher at Hamasaki Elementary School in East Los Angeles. “It’s my passion, and this is the opportunity for us to make a change.”

Espino, an Alhambra resident, sat with several colleagues at a real estate office in East L.A., taking a break from protesting in the pouring rain to eat lunch.

The food was donated by Liza Luna-Chan, whose daughter goes to Multnomah Elementary School in El Sereno, an L.A. neighborhood that borders Alhambra. “I want my daughter to be able to have the funding and the support she needs,” she said.

While biting into a burger, Espino explained that her school only has a nurse come in once a week to attend to sick students. And while Hamasaki’s classroom size is manageable, that is not the norm district-wide.

“In high school, we’re talking about 46 students in a history class,” said Pat Fernandez, a kindergarten teacher at Hamasaki and the school’s UTLA representative. “That’s ridiculous.”

The largest threat to LAUSD, according to these teachers, is charter schools. LAUSD has the largest number of charter schools and students of any school system in the country, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The district gives these schools money, but in return, a charter school is exempt from many regulations that public schools have to follow. This is why UTLA demanded that the district start capping the number of charter schools in the district and instituting more rules for them.

Charter schools do not have to hire unionized teachers, decreasing UTLA’s ability to negotiate for fair salaries, benefits and working conditions in the long term. “In 10, 20 years, is someone going to go to college four years and then get a credential for a low-paying job?” asked Clayton Stewart, a special education teacher at Hamasaki. “This is very shortsighted.”

Stewart and his colleagues see the pay increase that UTLA is asking for as crucial in attracting people to teaching in the future. Yet the priority is the longevity of the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The pay raise is secondary to us,” Espino said. “We want the funding to go into the schools.”

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