LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner on what happens to students if teachers strike

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy

A strike by LAUSD teachers is postponed until Monday. That could give the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and the district a few more days to reach a deal on a new contract for educators.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner is in Sacramento today, where he is talking to state leaders about finding more resources and funding.

Currently, the state gives LAUSD $16,000 per pupil per year.

“Los Angeles may be the largest school district in the state of California. But our ability to control our funding -- it’s all set in Sacramento,” Beutner explains.

Beutner says he supports a 6 percent salary raise for teachers, and the hiring of more educators, nurses, counselors, and librarians.

“We've put a very full offer on the table. We've been told by the state, the county, the independent fact finder… that we're spending money too fast, we will run out very soon… So we're asking UTLA to come back to the table, and tell us what they think we can do.”

But UTLA believes LAUSD is sitting on a $2 billion reserve fund.

Beutner says he’s spending that money: about one-third on salary increases, one-third on reducing class sizes and putting extra support staff in classrooms, and one-third on their operating deficit.

In LAUSD’s proposal, what would class sizes be, on average for high school or elementary school?

“I don't know the numbers off the top of my head,” says Beutner. "They’re different at elementary, then middle, then high... We agree there are classes that are too big. We're using every penny, we have everything we could find in the cupboard, to make those as small as possible.”

He says he’d love to have a quality teacher in every classroom, and make classes as small as possible.

“I’d like to make sure that student is supported from a mental health perspective, from a physical health perspective. That there’s a rich set of extracurricular activities that student can participate in. I want to all of those things. Now will you work with me to find resources to do that? That's the question. We can't have a values conversation in one room, and a budget conversation in a different room, and not connect those two,” he says.

Another sticking point in negotiations has been the issue of charter schools. The union wants more oversight of charter schools, and some kind of give-back to the district for locating charter campuses on district schools.

“State law governs how charters reside within a district like ours. We proposed… a working group on charters to address the issue of colocation, to address the issue of long term space planning, to address the issue of rigorous oversight.”

However, critics say that charter schools create a big financial drain on the district because the money follows the student?

“I don't think charters are the only issue that we wrestle with,” says Beutner. But we have 500,000 kids in traditional public school settings… We should be able to make it work with those resources like every other school district does.”

But many kids who go to traditional public schools have more needs than those who go to charters. Beutner says the state should fund LAUSD for those needs then.

If a strike happens, will kids get any kind of education if they go to school? Beutner has hired some 400 teachers and about 2000 staffers to oversee the kids.

“Schools will be open because we serve a million meals a day to kids living in poverty. Because we have families who rely on us to make sure their children are safe, while they earn a living. Schools will be open because the children will be learning. It may be a different type of learning.”

Finally, if parents decide not to send their kids to school during a strike, would those kids be punished and considered truant?

Beutner tells Press Play he’d have to refer us to a colleague who’s looking at that issue, and he doesn’t know off the top of his head.