After six days, the L.A. teachers strike officially ended Tuesday night when United Teachers Los Angeles’ 31,000-odd members voted to ratify a new contract with the school district. And you could say that everything went according to plan: For longer than a week, the city’s top news story was the state of public education, namely, that schools are overcrowded and underfunded. The agreement came before the strike wore out its welcome or fatally crippled the school district, and is essentially a sensible compromise. It gives teachers a 6 percent raise, shrinks class sizes a tad, and allocates funds for more nurses, counselors, and librarians. Perhaps the union’s biggest victory is the elimination of “Section 1.5,” a clause in their contract that allowed the district to unilaterally ignore class-size caps in the event of financial hardship.
But even though the contract was promptly ratified by what the union called a supermajority, not everyone was happy with the deal that had been struck. In the hours after the agreement was announced, teachers, parents, and activists voiced their displeasure on various social media platforms. Some were irked at having only a few hours to read the deal before voting on it. Others thought the contract fell well short of what the union had been so vociferously demanding. Comments on UTLA’s Facebook page (only some of which were posted by teachers) included:
“Read the agreement it’s crap [poop emoji]… sold out”
“Los Angeles emergency rooms are filling up with teachers who have knife wounds in their back. News at 11.”
“This doesn’t look much different than the Jan. 11 one. I’m disappointed.”
“I feel so very disappointed! We really didn’t need to strike at all!!! #SadTeacher #Not Satisfied.”
“Not great. There are not a lot of smiles from teachers around me right now.”
Martha Infante, a teacher at Taft High School in the San Fernando Valley, voted “yes” on the agreement. “I thought it was a huge accomplishment,” she says. “We made some tremendous gains that I didn’t think were possible. We were able to get rid of Section 1.5. That’s a power that we’re taking back from the district.” She adds: “I know my fellow teachers don’t all see it that way.”
School board member Nick Melvoin, a former teacher (and UTLA member) who was supported by charter school operators in his election and who opposed the strike, says he too noticed some disappointed teachers back at work the next day.
“I think a lot of the teachers are confused, because the deal is similar to what we’d been offering beforehand,” Melvoin says.
The union, United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a statement that the three-year contract was ratified by 81 percent of the vote, and more than 20,000 teachers voted yes. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said: “Six days and one contract can’t immediately solve 40 years of disinvestment in public education, but what this strike has taught us is that we can dare to raise our hopes and expectations for our schools. The fight for fully funded schools is not over, and we have activated a community of parents, students, and supporters who are willing to fight for public education with us well into the future.”
Infante believes some of her fellow teachers may have expected the number of students in their classes to be reduced more dramatically—and faster—than they’re now set to. “I think everyone is focusing on the issues that affect them personally,” Infante says. “When your class size only gets reduced by one or two students, it’s not enough to make a real impact.”
The agreement also does little to stem the tide of charter school growth in Los Angeles. For decades, the debate over public education in Los Angeles has been as polarized as any in Washington, D.C. That’s unlikely to change, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s insistence that the signing of the agreement represents the arrival of a “new day.” There’s still a school board race coming up in March, and there will still be angry fights over district schools forced to share their campuses with charter schools. But the union and the district will soon find themselves in the same boat as they ask voters for more money.
Both sides will be supporting a statewide ballot measure in 2020 that could be a game-changer for public education in California. If passed, it would overturn part of Proposition 13 and, in effect, raise taxes on commercial and industrial properties. Supporters of the initiative say it would raise as much as $10.5 billion in revenue per year, roughly half of which would go to K-12 public schools. And Melvoin says he expects the district to put up a “parcel tax” for a vote that same year. Without either of those two (and indeed, it may take both) passing, the district’s financial outlook will be dire and that could impact the agreement signed this week.
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