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Supporters of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)'s planned walkout held signs at a recent demonstration. (Photo: @NEAToday)

30,000 LA Teachers 'Strike Ready' as District Refuses to Spend $1.86 Billion Reserve on Better Pay, Smaller Class Sizes

"We want an agreement that works for our kids—that gets to a place where we're not dealing with 50 kids in a classroom."

Julia Conley

Educators and their allies in the second-largest school district in the nation are making a stand for students and education quality this week as more than 30,000 Los Angeles teachers prepare to go on strike, after the school district has refused to use its nearly $2 billion dollar reserve to provide educators with better pay, students with smaller class sizes, and much-needed funding for school programs.

After working for more than a year without a contract, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is planning to walk out as early as Thursday if the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) does not meet their demands. The teachers voted almost unanimously last August to go on strike, and state-mandated mediation since the vote has done little to help further negotiations between the two sides.

UTLA argues that the school district has plenty of money set aside to provide educators with a 6.5 percent raise, hire more teachers to ensure smaller class sizes, and hire more nurses, school counselors, and librarians to support school communities. District nurses currently split their time between schools, leaving many buildings without a healthcare provider for much of the week.

Teachers also want the elimination of a section of their contract which states that the district can increase class sizes to save money.

"We want an agreement that works for our kids—that gets to a place where we're not dealing with 50 kids in a classroom, where we're not dealing with 40 percent of our schools having a nurse for only one day a week," Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA president, said in a statement.

With many using the hashtag #StrikeReady, Los Angeles educators have taken to social media in recent weeks to share their reasons for supporting the strike.

"I am strike ready because after 22 years of being a special education teacher it is time that my students get respect and it is time that I as a teacher get respect. The time is now," said one educator.

Others expressed the need for more science and arts classes in the district as well as smaller class sizes in schools serving children from racially and economically diverse backgrounds.

If the strike moves forward on Thursday, the city's 600,000 students will be taught and supervised by about 400 substitute teachers and 2,000 administrators, but many parents are reportedly planning to keep their children at home.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner reportedly suggested to the press this week that students may be occupied with computers in the absence of teachers, saying, "There are ways to educate kids that don't rely on a physical body"—a comment that was slammed by many parents and students in the district.

Rather than education, as the city's Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapter noted on Twitter, Beutner's background is in investment banking. DSA compared his secretive plan to divide the LAUSD into 32 networks to decentralize authority and create a "leaner, more efficient" school system, to a "private equity sale."

LAUSD has offered only a six percent raise to teachers, and in talks on Monday offered to spend $75 million to help reduce class sizes and hire more support staff—but UTLA has rejected the school district's claim that it needs to use its $1.86 billion reserve to fund operations with its current budget.

"I think what you're seeing is people want to make conditions better for children and for themselves," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told CNN about the impending strike. "A strike is not a first resort for anyone. It's a last resort—especially for teachers who are asked to do more with less every day. And enough is enough."

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