By Josh Kob
The latest strike wave among public school educators reached California last month as the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) six-day strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The LAUSD, the second largest in the country, has been a target of billionaire privatizers such as Eli Broad and the Walton family.
The impact of these efforts drains up to $600 million out of the school district each year, leaving public schools in Los Angeles starved for resources. Class sizes in public schools mushroomed, and staffing of support services personnel such as school nurses, counselors, and teacher-librarians was wholly inadequate to meet the needs of Los Angeles students.
Through a “bargaining for the common good” approach, UTLA spent the past four years engaging educators, parents, students and the community around the collective bargaining process and how it could be used to transform public education in Los Angeles. UTLA received input from a whole host of coalition groups and formulated bargaining proposals based off the community’s feedback.
When the pro-privatization majority LAUSD school board appointed investment banker Austin Beutner as superintendent in the spring of 2018, a man with no background in public education, UTLA, and the community started to prepare for the possibility of a strike to save public education. Beutner, with support from billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, had plans to further privatize the LAUSD through a competitive market-based “portfolio” model of schools.
After two years without a contract, UTLA, students, parents, and the community said enough was enough as the district continued to refuse to make adequate investments while sitting on a reserve of almost $2 billion. At the conclusion of the six-day strike, UTLA, its students, parents, and the community won a major victory for public education in Los Angeles, including, but not limited to, the following:
• A school nurse in every school five days a week.
• A teacher-librarian at every secondary school five days a week.
• Investments in a “community schools” model with wraparound social services for families.
• Expanding green spaces throughout the school district.
• A pilot program to end unreasonable and random searches of students.
• Support for immigrant families and students.
• Improved counselor-to-student ratios.
• Planning time and improved caseloads for special education personnel.
• A plan to propose a cap on charter schools.
• Commitment to reduce unnecessary standardized testing by 50%.
• Reduced class sizes by the elimination of contract language that previously allowed the LAUSD to ignore class size caps.
With these achievements, the UTLA knows its work is not done as it prepares for a special school board election in March, which could undo the pro-privatization school board majority. For all of us in the Central Valley, what happened to the LAUSD over the years should serve as an important lesson as we potentially face similar billionaire privatizers chomping at the bit for our public schools.
Joshua Kob xxx.