California Today: The L.A. Teachers’ Union Leader on What Would End the Strike

 

Yesterday, we talked to Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, about the city’s teachers’ strike that has all but ground the operations of the nation’s second-largest school system to a halt.

Today, we hear from the other side.

My colleague Jennifer Medina talked to Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, just before Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that negotiations between the union and the district would resume today.

A meeting is scheduled for noon at City Hall, with the mayor’s staff serving as a mediator between the two groups.

Mr. Caputo-Pearl, said that neither he, Mr. Beutner nor the mayor would be at the table for the negotiations. “We’re going to let our teams dig into it and then we’ll be involved soon enough,” he said late last night. He did not make any predictions about when the strike would end.

 

“We’re going to continue to strengthen our picket lines, which have been growing with the support from our community and parents,” he added. “We’re going to pursue both tracks, both picketing and bargaining at the same time.”

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Jennifer Medina: How long do you expect the strike to last? What would end it?

Alex Caputo-Pearl: In the bigger picture we need to see a real commitment to reinvesting in neighborhood public schools. We need to see that there is willingness to substantially invest in that, to use the $140 million from the governor. We need to see that there is really reinvestment in class size reduction, staffing issues, counselors. We want to see some regulation on the charter industry, so that it does not just keep growing without limits. We need to know they have some basic rules of engagement and accountability. Those are some of the key issues.

You’ve talked about making the picket lines even stronger to make the attention to Los Angeles public schools really make a difference. What do you want the wider public — particularly those without a connection to the schools here — to understand?

The vast, vast majority of our members have been out in the rain every day. They’ve been joined by tens of thousands of parents, we’ve had two major demonstrations downtown with thousands of people, and L.M.U. released a poll last night that showed almost everyone in the county supports the teachers’ strike.

So this is clearly touching a nerve and the reason for that is because our public schools and students have been neglected and starved for a very long time. And the reason they’ve been neglected is because the resources are going to privatized charters.

This is an opportunity to highlight that California has one of the most permissive systems for charters. It wasn’t supposed to create an industry, it was supposed to create experiments to feed back into the system. It’s also a time to reiterate that it’s criminal that in California we do not do enough to take care of public schools. This has the potential to be a real watershed moment, challenging leaders rather than letting it slide off the cliff.

What role do you see for Mayor Garcetti here? When we spoke to Mr. Beutner, he suggested that the city might devote some of its funding for homeless children to support schools. Do you see that happening?

I think there are certainly things that the city can do. And Mayor Garcetti has been fulfilling some of that over the last few years, but all of us — including him — think that more can be done.

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