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LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”

The chair of UTLA at our high school today wrote:

We are making history as this strike looms. Every school district in the country is watching what we are doing, and we are getting support from all over the country. We are not just fighting for us but for the future students of all school districts. That is why we must not fail–we must keep our lines strong.

Why Is LAUSD Provoking a Strike?

While some who haven’t followed what has been going on for the past 21 months may tend to fall for LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s deceptions, there is no doubt that this strike is being provoked by LAUSD. The only question is “Why?” I’ve wondered for a while why they’re doing this, and it seems like it comes down to one of (or a combination of) several possibilities:

Possibility #1: LAUSD is Disorganized

It is possible that they’re simply too disorganized to be capable of making UTLA a real contract offer. To be fair to LAUSD, they have had an unstable superintendent situation, some of which wasn’t their fault.

We started negotiations for this contract back in April of 2017 when Michelle King was the superintendent. She went on medical leave due to cancer late that summer, and Vivian Ekchian became acting superintendent. King stepped down in January. The Los Angeles Times said “Because senior officials have praised her performance, Ekchian is likely to be a candidate for the permanent job.”

However, the billionaire-funded charter lobby poured money into some of the school board elections, and we ended up with  pro-charter majority, who then appointed Beutner, who took office in May. Ref Rodriguez, once the leader of the charter school-backed majority that took over the board, resigned and pled guilty to a felony. It’s been a chaotic situation Then again, by now they’ve had plenty of time to get organized.

Possibility #2: LAUSD Leadership is Incompetent

Beutner has no education experience. Some people who work at Beaudry have told me there’s a lot of conflict between the existing staff and the people Beutner brought in, and much of the existing staff doesn’t think Beutner knows what he’s doing. I’ve also been told that many at Beaudry think this strike is being provoked, and hope that we stick to our guns and win.

Possibility #3: Beutner Believes He Can Deliver UTLA a Crushing Blow so He Can Move Forward with Plans to Break Up, Privatize & Charterize LAUSD

Perhaps Beutner believes that with the power of the charter lobby behind him and the PR hatchet job the charters have done on public schools, teacher unions, and public school teachers, we’re ripe to be taken down.

We’re the only thing standing between him and his goal of dividing LAUSD into charter schools which choose the students they want and get rid of the ones they don’t, and rump traditional schools with large class sizes and scant resources. Then when the charters score better on tests than the traditional schools, that will be evidence for the naïve and uninformed that charters are better. Some might say “but that’s what is already happening!” Yes, it is, and Beutner wants to extend it.

Possibility #4: LAUSD Is Willing to Make a Real Offer, but They First Want to See If We’ll Fight

Perhaps they’re prepared to make us a decent offer but they want to see if we can pull off a strike with solid picket lines before they make concessions. Perhaps they question the commitment of the UTLA rank & file, or the ability of the current UTLA leadership to do the ground-level work of organizing a solid strike. Perhaps LAUSD thinks we’ll fold. Good luck with that.

Possibility #5: LAUSD Thinks Teachers Only Care about Money, Not Our Students

Beutner has negotiated this way, in that the only thing of significance he’s offered UTLA is a 6% “raise” over two years (really just a Cost of Living Adjustment) in 21 months of negotiations. He seems mulishly committed to pretending that most of the other contract issues don’t exist.

Possibility #6: Beutner Wants Us to Strike Because He Wants to Rise Politically

One of my colleagues raises a sixth possibility—Beutner’s frustrated political career. He writes:

Beutner tried unsuccessfully to become mayor of Los Angeles he lost because he was an unknown. If he makes us strike, his name and face gets in the media. He doesn’t need the money, and the longer the strike goes, the better for him. When it ends he can then go to his privatizer friends and say “Look what I did–I took on the mighty UTLA and almost won! Give me money, I’ll go into politics and make sure we win next time.”

Is Austin Beutner What UTLA Says He Is?

When Beutner first came into office in May I was a little put off by UTLA’s negative attitude towards him. I even wrote a column in a Los Angeles newspaper respectfully offering him my friendly advice on how to do his new job. He emailed me thanking for my suggestions, though I doubt he read it. But I must admit that in his eight months in office he’s shown himself to be every bit the privatizer/charterizer/unionbuster that UTLA always said he was. I’d still like for us to be wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely.

 

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Glenn Sacks is an LAUSD social studies teacher and UTLA co-chair at his high school.  He was recently recognized by LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Vivian Ekchian for “exceptional levels of performance.  

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