As thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers calling for more pay and smaller class sizes walked off the job Monday, negotiations between Pasadena teachers and school district officials grew further apart.
And now, due to a note of caution issued to Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) officials by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), agreement may not even be possible.
In a Jan. 9 letter, Candi Clark, LACOE’s chief financial officer, cautioned the district against giving teachers raises. In her memo, Clark expressed concerns that potential changes involving labor contract negotiations have not been incorporated into projected salary and benefit expenditures of the district’s budget.
“We are concerned that any salary and benefit increase, if paid from reserves or other one-time resources, could adversely affect the financial condition of the district,” Clark wrote to Pasadena Board of Education President Larry Torres.
The two sides have been in contract negotiations since April.
Union officials are asking for a 3 percent salary increase retroactive from July 2017, smaller class sizes, new staffing ratios and better health and other benefits.
Currently, local teachers are not close to striking, according to Alvin Nash, president of United Teachers of Pasadena (UTP).
More than 100 teachers and full-time employees have been laid off over the past year in order to balance the district’s budget.
“Prior to a strike, PUSD and UTP must declare impasse followed by mediation and a fact-finding hearing,” Nash told the Pasadena Weekly. “Neither PUSD nor UTP has declared an impasse, as both parties still are in negotiations.”
In November, LACOE approved the district’s budget for 2020-21, which contained $10.3 million in cuts and established a state-mandated 3 percent reserve. The positive certification means that LACOE will not take control of the district, but will keep a county fiscal adviser in place.
Along with approving a budget, also in October PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald received a vote of no confidence from union members.
In a letter, the union’s executive board called McDonald a “bad fit” for the district because he promotes a “culture of divisiveness and non-accountability.”
“I think [LACOE] just wants to make sure that whatever spending we do we are able to remain in the fiscal stability plan.” said Torres. “When we turned that in we couldn’t even count the tax revenues from Measure J.”
Measure J was an advisory ballot measure in the November election which allowed officials to use one third of the proceeds from Measure I for schools. Measure I was a three-quarter cent sales tax increase expected to raise $21 million a year. In separate polls local residents said they didn’t want the money from Measure I to go to local salaries.
“I think they just want to make sure we are fiscally prudent no matter what we spend the money on,” Torres said of LACOE officials.
Board of Education member Michelle Richardson Bailey said she is not worried about the ongoing negotiations with teachers, but said she is concerned that teachers and other full-time employees have not had a raise since 2014.
“I am concerned about the lack of funding for public education,” said Richardson Bailey. “I applaud Gov. [Gavin] Newsom for what he is doing. What remains to be seen here is how the funds are allocated.”
On Jan. 10, Newsom proposed a $209 billion state budget, a 4 percent increase over the previous year that includes $80.7 billion for education.
In a letter to local residents, Torres and Superintendent McDonald took a victory lap for the district’s recent successes.
“Although we have made considerable progress, we still have to address reduced state funding because of declining enrollment, rising special education costs, and increases in pension contributions,” the letter states. “However, we are further encouraged by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first budget, which demonstrates his commitment to improved funding for public schools and also recognizes the challenges facing California school districts. Taken together, this news is both affirming and encouraging,” the letter stated.
Richardson Bailey said the district has been given new opportunities to get it right, but it wants to get the teachers and classified employees involved in the budgetary process.
The dissatisfaction of regional educators reached a crescendo on Monday when 30,000 teachers from the nation’s second-largest school district in neighboring Los Angeles went on strike for the first time in 30 years.
United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and district officials have been negotiating a new contract for two years. The union’s members have been working without a contract for more than a year.
The strike will impact 900 schools and a half-million students as teachers fight for more money, smaller class sizes, fewer tests and more librarians and counselors.
California ranks 41st in the nation in per pupil spending, and about one in five public school students is an English language learner, according to the state Department of Education.
In May, the board named Austin Beutner, the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times and a former investment banker with no experience running a school or a school district, to lead the district.
According to the union, Beutner and the school board members who voted him in are trying to privatize the district.
Despite the strike, Beutner said it would be a “normal day at school.”
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl disagreed at a press conference at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles.
“Here we are on a rainy day in the richest country in the world, in the richest state in the country, in a state that’s blue as it can be — and in a city rife with millionaires — where teachers have to go on strike to get the basics for our students,” Caputo-Pearl said.
Teachers across the nation have made similar demands. In school districts in Arizona, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers have walked out to get what they wanted over the past year.
Those strikes have been coined the “Red4Ed” movement because the walkouts happened in conservative or red states with right to work laws that limit the ability to strike, and moved to more liberal West Coast states like Washington and California that have stronger teacher unions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“What you’re seeing with unions is real enthusiasm and a belief that you can actually be successful,” Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois told The Associated Press. “The educational sector is rife with deep grievance and frustration, but there’s now a sense that you can actually win.”