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Teacher Strikes Highlight a Growing Demand for Public School Reform

BY VINCENT WOO

Staff Writer

Almost half a million LAUSD students were affected by the LA Teachers Union strike losing ten days of instructional time, middle and high school authorities also reported student involvement in the strikes, according to the National Public Radio. (Courtesy of Al Seib, Los Angeles Times)

The ongoing teacher strikes in Denver, Colorado and Oakland, California are a part of a greater national movement for the advancement of public schools.

Teacher strikes have become increasingly common in the United States; recent strikes reflect similar struggles between teachers’ unions and teachers.

The ten-day Los Angeles teachers’ strike over low pay, excessive class sizes, and an inadequate amount of non-teaching school staff, such as nurses, counselors, and librarians that affected half a million LA students was one of many strikes affecting schools across the nation.

In Los Angeles, an agreement was made between Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) representatives, enacting a 6.5% pay raise for teachers, as well as decreasing class sizes by as many as two students in some schools. The agreement will also require one full-time nurse to be present in each LAUSD school, as well as a full-time librarian in all middle and high schools.

The 6.5% pay increase would ensure the preservation of teachers in Los Angeles, as the overall cost of living in the city is almost twice the national average, according to bestplaces.net. While the average LAUSD teacher earns $75,000 per year, significantly higher than the national average of $58,000, these high living expenses clarify the need for a pay increase.

The new agreement will reportedly cut class sizes by two students in some Los Angeles schools with heavy student populations, with drops of five students in the hardest-hit areas. However, this would only be a change from the current average class size of 29.5 in elementary schools and 42.5 in middle and high schools, according to a report from the Orange County Register. The national ratio is 16:1 for the 2018-19 school year.

Staffing increases also took effect as each school in LAUSD is to be supplied with a full-time librarian per the terms of the agreement. LA schools were previously not required to hire full-time librarians, with money allocated toward a librarian’s wage allowed to be spent on other programs. LAUSD schools now must also hire full-time nurses, as under the previous agreement, only elementary schools required a nurse to be on campus, a deal set to expire at the end of next year.

While the district’s counselor-to-student ratios improved, the change is unlikely to cause any real impact as the ratio still stands well over 500 students per counselor.

The Union asserts that policy changes on the part of LAUSD to reduce class sizes and increasing staffing levels would set the district back as little as $35 million out of a total $8 billion budget, numbers disputed by the district who estimate the cost to be as high as $1 billion.

The Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) conducts regular negotiations for Irvine teachers’ salaries, rights, conditions, and benefits with the Irvine Teachers Union (ITA). The right to negotiate job contracts, known as collective bargaining, originated in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act after a long period of discontent on the part of workers in the 19th and early 20th century, giving rise to a period of progressive policy changes.

ITA representative and Social Sciences teacher Nora Seager explains the positive relationship maintained between ITA and IUSD.

“We have had a lot of support whether it be from the Irvine Company or the district, for example, in getting the Chromebook carts. If I know that I’m going to be using [the Chromebooks] where the students will be having that “aha!” moment, or even with any technology… then I’ll tell the administrator or the school board member. When they spend money on these things it’s nice to say “Hey, come and see, it worked.” The [district] wants to know.”

Former ITA representative and Social Sciences teacher Genevieve Oakes added that “A strong public education system is one of the most critical elements of a well-functioning democracy.”

Irvine teachers last went on strike on February 5, 1985, protesting a proposed 3% pay raise, which ITA argued failed to meet rising living costs.

Many UHS students are aware of the contributions teachers make to students on campus and feel they deserve better.

“Teachers put so much time and effort into helping their students grow as people, so now it’s time for us to stand by teachers in LA.” said sophomore Evan Wolf. “This March is about teachers fighting for themselves and for their students, and that’s worth standing by.”

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