LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Mayor Eric Garcetti expressed tempered optimism Thursday that the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers' union could reach a deal over a new contract, but admitted that a strike was likely.
"I think the strike is all but inevitable, but I hope that it will be short-lived," Garcetti remarked at a news conference Thursday morning at City Hall announcing the launch of a new earthquake warning mobile app for L.A. County residents.
Following 20 months of unsuccessful negotiations, 33,000 LAUSD teachers will walk off the job on Thursday, Jan. 10, if no deal is reached is reached by then. The district has planned for a possible strike by hiring hundreds of substitute teachers.
A union strike would be the first by LAUSD teachers since 1989.
"I don't think as much separates both sides as you might hear," Garcetti said.
On Wednesday, LAUSD urged the teachers' union to return to the bargaining table. Superintendent Austin Beutner and the LAUSD board claimed the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has been unwilling to engage in contract talks since mid-December. On Thursday, UTLA countered that its bargaining team is willing to meet with LAUSD this coming Monday, Jan. 7.
At issue between the two sides has been pay, class size and the hiring of more support staff such as nurses, counselors and librarians. LAUSD has offered a 6 percent pay hike retroactive to July 1, 2016, while UTLA is demanding a 6.5 percent salary increase.
"I agree with our teachers that we need smaller class size," Garcetti explained. "I agree that we need to have the support staff for career counselors and college counselors and health officials. And I agree that we need to make sure that the schools that we have our improved, instead of opening up a whole bunch of new schools. That said, we also have to live inside our means."
Negotiations also hinge on the debate between public schools and privatizing schools through charters. The union wants to ensure that privatization doesn't cut public school funding.
"The big issues in this contract struggle are reducing class size, getting more nurses, counselors, psychologists, librarians to our schools, making sure privatization isn't sapping money from neighborhood public schools," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said last month.
District officials previously reported that the union's contract proposal would increase the district's $500 million deficit during the current school year by another $813 million. In response, UTLA criticized the district and Beutner, saying LAUSD has a "record breaking" reserve fund of about $1.8 billion that should be tapped to make improvements in school staffing.
Garcetti said the city has been preparing contingency plans to assist families in the event of a strike. Recreation centers, parks and libraries will be open as "safe places" where parents can bring their children on strike days.
Los Angeles police have been working with LAUSD on extra security in the event that there are not enough teachers at schools on strike days.
"I hope that as the teachers' union and LAUSD look at the coming days, that both of them will really put our children first, and our families first," Garcetti said.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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