Thousands of teachers gathered together in a park in downtown Los Angeles wearing red and carrying signs with the hopes of gaining higher wages and smaller class sizes.
“Everybody in this country is watching this struggle,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. “It’s a fight about the nature of public education. What is public education going to look like?”
The rally is the largest event to come of the standoff between the United Teachers Los Angeles and Los Angeles Unified district leaders thus far. The union is seeking an 8.5% salary raise for teachers in the district. However, interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines remains adamant that the district cannot afford the demand without resulting in large amounts of layoffs, and countered with a 5% raise. The two sides are still apart by over $800 million per year.
Cortines said the district is currently facing a deficit of $160 million. Because there are no reserve funds left, the plan is to begin laying off teachers on March 15 with a 60 day notice.
“Class size is the main reason I’m here,” ninth-grade teacher Luis Blazer said. “If you have 54 minutes of class time and you have 45 students that means each student is getting less than two minutes of attention. No matter how good of a teacher you are, you’re always going to lose the group.”
Like many of the educators who met at the park that day, Blazer said that although he was not financially prepared to strike, he was ready to if a compromise could not be made concerning class sizes, teacher pay and the creation of a new system for evaluating teachers, writes Zahira Torres for The LA Times.
“We haven’t been given a raise in eight years, yet my apartment has gone from $750 to $1,800 a month and I’m expected to pay that on the same salary,” Blazer said.
Just last month the union declared an impasse, and the two sides are currently awaiting a mediator to help settle the issues. If a resolution still cannot be reached, a fact finding panel will be created. Union officials report teachers in the district are ready to strike if these measures fall through, reports Christine Armario for The Huffington Post.
According to UTLA President Alex Caputo Pearl, 15,000 people were in attendance at the rally, where he told crowds that there has not yet been a legitimate counter offer by district officials during negotiations. He asked teachers to call the superintendent and board members to make their voices heard, to vote in the upcoming school board election against those who have shown support for former Superintendent John Deasy, and to complete commitment cards that said they would be willing to strike if necessary.