After the strike: ‘A foundation to move forward’

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

Thirty-one thousand LAUSD teachers went back to work after six days on the picket lines. The new contract they approved Tuesday gives them a 6 percent raise over two years, smaller class sizes, and more nurses, counselors and librarians.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, tells Press Play that the contract is a win for students, educators, parents, and public schools. He’s especially happy about getting rid of the provision allowing the school district to exceed class size caps.

He says starting next year, caps for all secondary math and English classes will drop by seven students; for all other classes, caps are now enforceable; and class sizes will be driven down gradually over the next three and a half years.

When it comes to teachers’ salaries, Caputo-Pearl says educators deserve more than the 6 percent raise they got. “That’s why the struggle continues. What we did do was we made sure that 6 percent pay increase doesn’t have any conditions on it.”

The issue of charter schools was another sticking point in the negotiations. Caputo-Pearl has said there’s going to be a co-location task force or coordinator from the union who will be part of a shared use agreement when charters located on district schools.

“We've got over 100 schools that are co-located now… And parents have been very upset by their public district schools losing dance studios or losing parent centers, etc. So this is going to give educators and parents a voice in not only pushing back on co-location if they need to, but also actually managing how space is used, so that the public district school isn't crippled by the co-location of a charter,” he says.

But state law says charters are allowed to be on district campuses. And the state decides whether or not to approve and fund charter schools.

“It is state law, but there's wiggle room for local districts to weigh in on how it affects learning conditions and working conditions. And that's why it's now in the contract,” Caputo-Pearl says.

He mentions that LAUSD board member Richard Vladovic will introduce a resolution to the school board that would appeal to the governor to place a moratorium or cap on charter schools in LA.

However, some parents want to have the option of sending their kids to charter schools, can’t afford a private school, and have lost faith in the public school system.

To them, Caputo-Pearl says, “We should all be committed to reinvesting in our existing schools, be they district schools or charter schools. That's just common sense that you don't keep on growing if you're stretching existing schools too thin in terms of their resources. And then the second thing I would say is...if we placed a moratorium, or a cap, or if the state acts to do so, it's not going to close down charter schools that are doing what they need to do.”

Caputo-Pearl must also begin to work with Superintendent Austin Beutner, who was painted as an opponent during the strike. Does he trust him?

“I don't think that he fully trusts me. But I think trust is something that's built. We've got a foundation right now to implement this agreement, and do things like schools and communities first. And I'm optimistic that we can do a lot of good work together. There will be struggles. There will be disagreements. But we've got a foundation to move forward,” Caputo-Pearl says.

-- Written by Amy Ta, produced by Nihar Patel