The defining moment of educator courage is here

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If we are forced to strike it will be to defend the future of public education

The defining moment of educator courage is here

By Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA President


After 20 months of attempting to reach an agreement with the district—an agreement that would, after years of neglect, reinvest in our students, our schools, our jobs, and our healthcare instead of tearing them down—we have declared a strike date of January 10, 2019. For 20 months, we and our students have been disrespected by the privatizers, the district, and those whom they have sent to the bargaining table. Enough is enough.

If we have to strike on January 10, we will be carried by the momentum of more than 50,000 people marching in the streets of downtown LA on December 15. We will be carried by the incredible energy, positive spirit, and desire to fight for our public neighborhood schools that pervaded through every moment and inch of that incredible march. Right before our eyes on December 15, through months of work on the part of thousands across the city, we saw a movement arise: a movement of educators, students, parents, community organizations, union workers, clergy, elected officials, state and national leaders, and more. This movement sees, with crystal clarity, that this is an existential fight. Will we reinvest in our public neighborhood schools, or will we downsize and privatize as Austin Beutner is calling for?

In my nonstop schedule of school visits to talk with members since August, it is obvious to me that our members are ready. From Augustus Hawkins High School in the heart of South LA, and their great chapter team of Kevin D’Amato, Travis Miller, and Alyssa Shepherd Moore, to Shirley Avenue Elementary in the San Fernando Valley, and their great chapter chair, Mabel Landaverde, our members are ready to strike not only to defend our public neighborhood schools, but because our students, and we, deserve more.

Moreover, LAUSD parents are ready, like those who came from the Valley, Eastside, and Harbor to stand with us when we announced the January 10 strike date: Hilda Rodriguez, Ruby Gordillo, Silvia Agustin, Maria Osorio, Vicky Martinez, Eloisa Galindo, and Manuela Panjoj.

In the time since 98% of our members, in historic turnout, voted to authorize a strike, I have seen the resolve, determination, and commitment of our members and parents grow exponentially.

Unless there are dramatic shifts in approach on the part of the district toward spending money on our students and saving the school district, we will strike on January 10. We will strike on January 10 unless we see an addressing of the crucial issues that shape education: a fair wage increase, class size, staffing like nurses and counselors, school site decision-making, standardized testing, early education, adult education, special education, bilingual education, and commonsense regulation on charters to contain the existential threat of the $600 million charter drain from neighborhood schools.

What drives us

There is a set of fundamental truths that drives us. Amidst the wealth of LA, we shouldn’t have classes with more than 45 students. We shouldn’t have 80% of our schools without full-time nurses. A superintendent with no education experience, but lots of downsizing experience (which shows why he was brought to LAUSD), should not be permitted to keep a record-breaking $1.98 billion LAUSD reserve away from students to create austerity, justifying cuts and more turnover of schools to privately run charter operators. Moreover, there is a record-breaking $15 billion reserve at the state level, and an expected $15 billion additional state surplus. Make no mistake: The money is there to improve our schools. We just have to force the district and state to invest it in our kids, schools, and educators.

And, yet, Austin Beutner says, with his “Re:imagine LAUSD” plan, that the solution is not to reinvest, but rather to become a portfolio district—a Wall Street model that has closed neighborhood schools, turned over more schools to unaccountable private operators, increased segregation, and undermined learning conditions in other cities. We are dealing with a district that, instead of investing in its own schools, gives itself over to billionaire privatizers and undermines its schools.

The district makes a sham of bargaining

The traditional bargaining process has not worked with this district, and we have exhausted bargaining options. We simply have not had a genuine bargaining partner in the district. Twenty months of negotiations. Almost no legitimate proposals from the district. District bargaining teams with no authority to bargain, and who had not even read our proposals. Refusal to mediate for an unheard-of 56 days. Lies about the budget. Refusal to respond to public records requests. Violations of the law to try to silence our members. High-priced consultants working in the shadows. Intentional starving of our schools. Constant rhetoric from Beutner about pushing for more state money, which UTLA has been relentless in doing, but no action from him when he could use his unique investment banker and private equity connections to move school funding measures. The punchline: There has been one force at the bargaining table attempting to improve the educational experience for the 600,000 students in the district, and that has been UTLA.

The district’s disrespect of us and our students had an exclamation point put beside it by what happened last week. Beutner warped the fact-finding report, a report that was favorable to us in affirming the district’s almost $2 billion reserve, affirming our calls for investment in class-size reduction and staffing, and affirming our calls for charter co-location regulation. Beutner not only ignored these findings, but, consistent with past behavior, lied. This time, he said that LAUSD and UTLA had made an agreement on salary. This is not true. We immediately filed an Unfair Practice Charge.

For these reasons, we will not accept the district’s empty offer to go back to the bargaining table just so they can continue to delay action for what our schools need. We’re not going to go back and do what we’ve already been forced to endure for 20 months, and expect something different. We will meet with LAUSD officials when they demonstrate that they are ready to agree to our demands. If the district wants to deviate from its bad faith pattern, it knows what we’re looking for.

A strike to defend our schools and a strike of hope

If we are forced to strike, it will be a strike for our students. A strike with our parents. A strike for our schools, for educational justice, for racial justice, and to defend the future of public education, and the right of educators to be treated well for the vital work that we do.

If we are forced to strike, it will be because we think our kids deserve more, because we dare to have high expectations, because we dare to be audacious about all kids’ futures. In sum, if we are forced to strike, it will also be a strike of hope.

And there is hope in the air. Educators and parents working together like never before, with meetings, rallies, film screenings, and joint work popping up in every corner of the city. Our members, school by school, committed to strike if we have to. Students demanding their voices be heard at the School Board, in rallies, and more. Unprecedented media coverage locally, nationally, internationally, and through all social media. An historic school funding initiative we are a part of, Schools and Communities First, on the ballot for 2020. Five hundred organizations across the country supporting us, and growing. Tony Thurmond winning for state superintendent against $34 million from the privatizers. Moreover, Thurmond winning LA County by 14% because the people of LA agree that we need healthy neighborhood public schools. And, above all, the hope generated by more than 50,000 people in the street at our march, with the incredible art made by parents, students, and educators at Art Build, with a visionary spirit about what our schools can and should be, and with a powerful spirit of joy and resolve. That march was not just hopeful—it was beautiful.

If we strike, it is all of our strike—for us, and with constituents across the city. When we win, before a strike or with a strike, it is all of our victory.

What all of us need to do, heart and soul

As we prepare to strike on January 10, it is crucial we all own, in our hearts and souls, some key elements.

1. A strike is more effective and shorter when we are as close to 100% participation as possible. No crossing picket lines. Any last one-on-one conversations that we need to have at our schools to ensure as close to 100% participation as possible need to happen ASAP. Always be diplomatic—but be firm. This is a collective effort that benefits everyone. When your chapter chair is taking attendance on the morning picket lines, support and help her or him. An effective strike needs to be right and tight.

2. A strike is more effective and shorter when every single one of us treats every day on strike as a work day. Our work on a strike day is not lesson planning and reading groups, but rather, it is prompt, vibrant, energetic participation in all activities of the union: the morning picket lines, the daily large actions, and the afternoon picket lines. This is essential.

3. A strike requires careful advance logistical planning. Ensure that the logistical planning sheet that was given to your chapter chair on November 14 and December 5 is completed, and that everyone at your school knows what the plan is regarding parking, bathrooms, picket spots, and so on. As you ask parents and businesses for help with logistics, remember, every single poll, including those in LA, show that educators are uniquely popular in the public. People are going to want to help you, so just ask.

4. A strike is more effective and shorter when every single one of us helps to stay connected to parents, and in fact, deepens connections with parents through regular conversations. Parents care about class size, nurses, counselors, our salaries, and they widely support our demands. We need to make sure that parents are deeply engaged and constantly visible publicly, showing support for our demands.

5. A strike is more effective and shorter when our picket lines involve many different constituencies and are energetic, loud, and vibrant. Every single principal is going to be directed to report on what picket lines look like outside their school. It dramatically increases our leverage when those principals report that all of the educators at the school are on the line, alongside parents, with community, with many others. Large, multi-constituency picket lines matter.

6. We all need to contribute to the collective effort. There will be moments during a strike when spirits flag, when a co-worker will need inspiration, etc. We all need to be supportive of each other, raising spirits, keeping our eye on the prize, making sure everyone is feeling good. Bring out the leader in yourself—for our profession, our students, our schools.

7. What happens during a strike helps us build for the future. New leaders will emerge, new relationships will form, new structures will develop at your school that make your union chapter more powerful, and new collective confidence will emerge that will help you deal with school-site issues after a strike.

8. What happens during a strike helps us build politically. UTLA is thrilled to have endorsed Jackie Goldberg in the March special election to replace disgraced School Board member Ref Rodriguez in Board District 5. Jackie was a teacher and an elected School Board member, City Council member, and State Assembly member. She has been a constant advocate for class-size reduction and charter accountability, and helped write the state laws that allow us to fight to reduce toxic over-testing, among other things. Jackie gave a rousing speech at the December 15 march. Our momentum in a strike, and work we do with her during a strike, will have a huge positive impact on the School Board race, helping Jackie win against the millions that will come against her from the charter industry. We are building a movement—in schools, and in elected offices.

Over the last months, as we’ve known we need to prepare for a possible strike, we have been pulling together in incredible ways as educators. Now, we pull together even tighter as January 10 approaches. We should think about all of the times that we haven’t had what we need for our students and for our co-workers, and all of the times we have been impacted by the existential threat of privatization, on the one hand; and on the other hand, we should think about the tremendous potential of an appropriately funded school system to meet the needs of students and to respect educators. The defining moment of educator courage is here, to stand up for ourselves, our jobs, and our healthcare, to stand up for our students and their parents, and to stand up to send a message to the state and nation, a clarion call for educational justice and the civic institution of a public school district. We are in that defining moment, and we can make history.

Thank you for your incredible work with students, get your well-deserved rest and relaxation this break, but also stay connected with your co-workers, get your site ready, and be ready. I couldn’t be more proud to be in this struggle with you.