Teachers union president: This is a fight for the soul of public education

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Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. Photo credit: UTLA

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Caitlin Plummer and Alex Tryggvadottir

It’s the third day of the LAUSD teachers strike. More than 30,000 walked off the job. The union and the district haven’t met since last week. But the pressure to settle the strike may increase as teachers go without a salary, and the district loses funding because so many kids aren’t in school. So far, the district has lost almost $45 million. The teachers have lost about $30 million.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, tells Press Play that he was was very frustrated last week when Superintendent Austin Beutner called for both sides to come to the table, then didn’t show up to two out of the three sessions.

Now Caputo-Pearl has contacted Mayor Eric Garcetti about getting the two sides together again. A meeting date is getting worked out today, he says.

What the union is not willing to compromise on

Caputo-Pearl says they’re not willing to compromise on classes of 48 students in high schools, and 39 in elementary schools. He wants to make sure there’s no way for the district to exceed size caps through an “escape clause.”

Caputo-Pearl says that in the contract, the district is proposing to permanently raise class sizes.

He’s also concerned about the percentage of schools without full time nurses.

What about the toll this strike is taking on teachers, who are picketing without pay?

Caputo-Pearl responded, “We had almost 75,000 people out in downtown L.A. on Monday. Something close to that on Tuesday. We've got 30,000 folks on picket lines. Tens of thousands of parents on picket lines. So there's a ton of energy and enthusiasm out there because our folks know...that this is a fight for the soul of public education.”

He says what’s really hurting people is a decade of neglect, and the push to privatize schools by turning them over to charters.

But is he worried that as the strike continues, support will wane, parents will get frustrated that their kids aren’t in school, and may actually shop around to send their kids to charters or private schools because of it? 

Caputo-Pearl suggests the district could end the strike quickly by coming to the table, considering the union’s demands, and making substantive offers.

He says the union was encouraged on Tuesday night by the Loyola Marymount poll that showed over 80 percent of people in L.A. County are supporting the teachers strike.

He mentions support from possible 2020 U.S. presidential candidates and Hollywood.

“We've neglected our public schools, and chosen to privatize them instead of funding them. And this is the movement we've needed. So we're going to keep on moving this,” he says.