There Should Have Been NO Strike

GUEST COMMENTARY--Leaders and Board members of Los Angeles Unified School District would like the public to believe that the teachers strike is all about salary.

Indeed, it could easily be: teachers have not received a raise in three years, the request by the Union (and the offer from the district) doesn’t even cover inflation, and the fact is that teachers leaving LAUSD for neighboring districts often receive salaries $10,000 to $20,000 higher than they received in Los Angeles. 

But it has never been about salary. It is and always has been a demand that the district actually invest in our schools and our children. We want LAUSD schools to be schools to which parents want to send their children. Schools that offer a caring, nurturing, safe environment, and opportunities to excel. 

The primary mechanisms to achieve these goals? 

  • A full-time librarian at all schools.
  • A full-time nurse at all schools.
  • Lower class size
  • Reduced district testing 

In addition to the salary request, these four items represent the bulk of our demands.

The request for full-time librarians and nurses may come as a surprise. Most parents probably assume that is the norm, but it is far from it. Nurses are usually dividing time between different locations such that at some schools, a nurse may be on campus only one day per week. Librarians often fare worse: some schools closed their libraries permanently. 

Reduced testing is something that may be hard for some to understand. We are not asking for reduced state testing. We are asking for fewer tests mandated only by LAUSD, because these tests provide teachers no additional information and do nothing more than take up instructional time that could be put to far better use. The LAUSD-mandated testing is also quite expensive, though it is common knowledge that district leaders never met a program or expense they wouldn’t spend (waste) money on, whether it benefits students … or not. That is the primary reason there is never money left over for salaries or positions no matter how much the district receives: new money is always spent on programs or pet-projects of questionable worth, first. The iPad fiasco is but one of many examples. 

But it is the lowering of class size that is the real sticking point. Were it not for class-size reduction, I am convinced that the contract would have already been settled and signed. I have personally taught academic classes as large as 55 students, in a room with seats for 40. High school classes are normed at an average of 42 in most cases, and the district refuses to negotiate a lower average or cap. Why? 

One word: Charters. 

If the district lowers class sizes, it not only takes away the one selling point charters have over district schools, it also takes away the shared space that charter organizations use to get onto regular school campuses. Without that extra space -- space that exists only because of mandated large classes in district-run schools -- charters would have to compete on their own, and the simple fact is that they cannot. Considering that over half the Board and the Superintendent were elected and/or supported by charter organizations, and the reason behind the lack of a settlement becomes obvious. 

LAUSD leaders and the Board do not want district schools to succeed. They may not admit it publicly, but their actions are clear: they want the district to fail. The Superintendent was hired by a pro-charter board via back-room politics after being pushed by pro-charter organizations and politicians from out of state. If district schools were made more desirable, it would destroy any chance of these organizations and politicians taking over the education of our children. There is no other explanation.

In the real world, there should have been no strike. 

Teachers are asking for nothing more than what a district should already provide to students. The position of Board and Superintendent Beutner is thus morally, ethically and intellectually indefensible. District leaders and the Board are failing to complete their fiduciary duties required by law. They all receive handsome salary and benefits packages - Beutner is paid more than the Governor of California - and their lack of desire to make the district successful should be, and I believe is, illegal. 

As Vern Gates, one of the members of the impartial factfinding panel wrote in the final report, “In my seventeen years working with labor unions, I have been called on to help settle countless bargaining disputes in mediation and sat on many factfinding panels. I have never (before) seen an employer that was intent on its own demise. The students of LAUSD deserve better.”

We all deserve better.


(Richard Wagoner is a 1981 graduate of LAUSD schools and has been an educator with the district for over 28 years. His experience in teaching led to an appointment with the Curriculum Development and Supplementary Materials Commission for the State of California, an advisory body to the State Board of Education)