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L.A. teachers resist multipronged attack

Published Mar 23, 2011 9:40 PM

The very existence of public teachers and support staff across Los Angeles has been threatened over the past several months.

Reminiscent of scenarios throughout the country, teachers are being assaulted by attempts from state, local and school district officials, courts and corporate interests to dismantle public education, destroy good union jobs and disregard community interests. The United Teachers Los Angeles collective bargaining agreement is being undermined by privatization, biased court decisions and layoffs. Teachers in particular are being scapegoated for the current financial crisis.

At a special meeting on Feb. 15, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education approved, by a vote of 4-to-2, a plan to issue reduction-in-force layoff notices to more than 5,000 employees by a March 15 deadline. The layoffs included 3,109 permanent elementary multisubject teachers; 975 permanent secondary single-subject teachers; and 456 permanent support services personnel. While pretending to care about student achievement and literacy, the LAUSD gave pink slips to all school district librarians on March 15.

The layoffs will result in class crowding. LAUSD plans to increase class sizes by five students for kindergarten through third grades and by two students in grades 4 through 8. The layoffs will also increase student-counselor ratios; sharply reduce the amount and types of services provided by teacher librarians, nurses, school psychologists, and other health and human services professionals; and decimate programs in art, music, foreign language, physical education and more.

Layoffs attack teacher seniority, weaken union

Over objections by UTLA, a Los Angeles judge approved a settlement between the school district and the American Civil Liberties Union that dramatically alters the way layoffs are handled. The settlement protects some schools from receiving layoff notices and requires that layoffs at all schools not exceed a district-wide average.

However, the settlement tramples on teachers’ collective bargaining rights, destroying the seniority rights of experienced, highly qualified teachers. It will grievously harm student learning by creating widespread staff instability and by leaving many low-performing schools with a higher concentration of less-experienced teachers.

The settlement does nothing to solve the systemic problems at hard-to-staff schools or address the inequities suffered by the most at-risk students. Instead, it will create chaos that further undermines the ability of teachers to do their job, while punishing them for their long-term dedication to the profession.

The settlement was the handiwork of LAUSD Superintendent-Elect John Deasy, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the ACLU and some school board members. Under the guise of defending students’ constitutional rights, their real goal was to attack teacher seniority and weaken the union.

United Teachers Los Angeles fought the settlement aggressively and has appealed the decision. Not surprisingly, the California Supreme Court denied UTLA’s application for a stay pending an appeal. While the union is seeking an expedited process of the appeal, the denial of a stay means that the school district will proceed with issuing layoff notices under the terms of the agreement.

Public school ‘choice’ exposed as sham

In February the LAUSD held advisory community elections on the so-called Public School Choice program, which allows charter schools and other organizations to bid for control of school campuses. Voters overwhelmingly chose school control plans written by teachers and administrators. But that didn’t stop the majority of the school board from disparaging the mandate from parents and community members and voting on March 15 to give more schools to outside, private charter operators.

Even Superintendent Ramon Cortines — who is no friend of public education or teachers — chose most of the local school control plans. In the end, that didn’t matter to the school board majority, who in some cases tossed aside strong academic plans in favor of those proposed by outside charter operators supported by the mayor.

In addition, the board voted to reconstitute Muir and Mann middle schools, over the objections of board member Marguerite LaMotte, who represents these sites. Reconstitution requires that all teachers and support staff reapply for their jobs. In reality, it means firing the entire staff. The school board majority’s real agenda is to do the bidding of the mayor and his billionaire allies, who want to privatize public education.

Emergency union meeting leads to fightback

UTLA members and other unions are not taking the attacks lying down. On March 13 the UTLA held an emergency chapter chair meeting. More than 500 chapter chairs attended — an unprecedented number — representing thousands of teachers and schools throughout the district. The member-teachers were fired up and planned a series of escalating actions against the rollbacks.

On March 15, the day of layoff notices and public school giveaways, teachers and support staff picketed thousands of Los Angeles schools before classes began, handing out leaflets asking for parent/community solidarity and action. A rally was held that afternoon by hundreds of teachers outside the LAUSD Board of Education, while teachers, parents and community activists packed the boardroom.

The board and the media could not ignore the anger of the community as the board gave away millions of dollars’ worth of new schools, built with public funds, to private corporations.

UTLA and other unions are participating in the March 26 Labor Solidarity March and Rally in downtown Los Angeles in order to build a broad movement to resist the attacks on labor. UTLA will build toward a May/June job action with parent and community support, and as much regional and statewide participation as possible, to escalate pressure on the district and the state.

There are plans for a fall campaign for a full contract based on UTLA reform, not corporate-driven anti-reform. If need be, the union is prepared to strike.

The more than 40,000-strong teachers must seize the day from those who want to dismantle public schools. It will be up to the teachers to step up to the plate, stand tall and stand up for public education, the rights of workers and the future of our children.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Information provided by UTLA.net.