LAUSD, teachers fail to reach contract agreement as strike looms

Leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the union representing its teachers did not reach any agreement on a new contract Monday after meeting in a last-ditch effort to avoid the district's first teachers' strike since 1989.

LAUSD said it brought forward a new proposal that would have added nearly 1,000 additional teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, which UTLA rejected.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex-Caputo Pearl told reporters outside district headquarters that he had several problems with the proposal and that he was surprised the district had "so little to offer.

Unless something changes significantly there will be a strike in the city of L.A."

UTLA has set a strike deadline of Thursday. Caputo-Pearl also said that another bargaining session had been scheduled for Wednesday, and that UTLA leaders are not able to meet Tuesday because they must be in court.

The district is seeking an injunction based on alleged "insufficient notice of intent to strike" -- an assertion union officials are calling "unsubstantiated" and "disingenuous."

If the school district succeeds with the injunction, it could delay the strike by a few days, Caputo-Pearl has said.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner told reporters the district simply did not have enough money to address all of UTLA's demands on reducing class sizes.

The union has been pushing the district to tap into an estimated $1.8 billion reserve fund to hire more staff and reduce class sizes, but Beutner insisted that the reserve money is already tied up in raises for other unions, a potential 6 percent raise for UTLA, money to help run an operating deficit and other issues.

"There's no more than that, so the notion that we are hoarding reserves, the notion that more money exists somewhere else to give more to reduce class sizes at this time, is not accurate," Beutner said. "We are spending more than we have in service of our students."

Caputo-Pearl said the district's proposal was inadequate for several reasons, including that a potential raise for teachers would be contingent on cutting future health care benefits, that it actually increases class size instead of lowering it, and would not add enough long-term nurses, counselors, and librarians.

With around 1,000 schools in the district, Caputo-Pearl said the offer would only amount to about one additional employee per school.

Caputo-Pearl also said that it was not clear if the 1,000 positions would be new hires, or the result of the district shuffling around employees.

"(Superintendent) Austin Beutner once again reveals his disdain for the educators and parents of LAUSD by fighting tooth and nail against proposals to give parents and teachers a greater voice in how their schools are run," Caputo-Pearl said. "These proposals have wide community support and would not

have cost the district a dime."

The two sides have been negotiating for nearly two years without coming close to a resolution. They've already gone through mediation and a fact-finding session in recent months. The fact finder's report was issued last month, and it sparked more verbal sparring between the two sides.

The district insisted Wednesday that its recent contract offer to the union incorporates many of the recommendations including in the fact-finding report, such as a 6 percent pay raise, a $30 million investment in hiring of professional staff and reducing class sizes and elimination of a section of the labor agreement that the union claims would allow the district to unilaterally increase class size.

UTLA officials said last week that many elements of the district's offer remained "unclear," suggesting that the 6 percent salary increase still appears to be contingent on cuts to future union members' health care and contending the offer also appears to maintain the contract section allowing increases in class size.

The union is also continuing to push for increased district investment in hiring of counselors, nurses, librarians and other professional staff, saying the $30 million proposed by the district would have a negligible impact on only a small percentage of LAUSD campuses.

LAUSD claims the staffing increases being demanded by the union would cost an estimated $786 million a year, further depleting a district already facing a $500 million deficit.

The district filed federal court papers Thursday in hopes of preventing teachers who serve special-education students from taking part in a strike, noting that the district's special-ed programs are monitored under a federal consent decree. The union decried the move, saying the district was "using our most vulnerable students as pawns."

A federal judge denied that claim Friday.

The union has also blasted the district for hiring an estimated 400 substitute teachers who can be brought in if a strike does occur. Caputo-Pearl said the union believes the move is illegal and will do little to allay the impact of a teachers' strike.

CNS contributed to this story.