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Tentative deal reached to end Los Angeles teachers strike

Thousands of striking Los Angeles Unified teachers gather in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A crowd of teachers roared its approval after a tentative deal was announced Tuesday between Los Angeles school officials and the union that will allow educators to return to classrooms after a six-day strike in the nation’s second-largest district.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, accompanied by leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District, announced the agreement at City Hall a few hours after a 21-hour bargaining session ended before dawn.

“I’m proud to announce that, pending approval by the teachers represented by UTLA and educational professionals and this Board of Education, we have an agreement that will allow our teachers to go back to work on their campuses tomorrow,” Garcetti said.

Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the 30,000 members would vote later Tuesday, and he expected approval. A union summary of the agreement called it “historic” and urged teachers to vote yes to ratify. Educators met with UTLA representatives to familiarize themselves with the details before casting ballots.

It wasn’t clear when the vote results would be known, but teachers were expected to be back at work on Wednesday.

The deal was broadly described by officials at the news conference as including a 6 percent pay hike and a commitment to reduce class sizes over four years.

Specifics provided later by the district and the union included the addition of more than 600 nursing positions over the next three school years. Additional counselors and librarians were also part of the increase in support staff.

Marianne O’Brien said the need for additional support staff was one of the main reasons she walked picket lines. “This is not just for teachers. It’s also for counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers,” said O’Brien, who teaches 10th grade English.

The new contract also eliminates a longstanding clause that gave the district authority over class sizes, officials said. Grades 4 through 12 would be reduced by one student during each of the next two school years and two pupils in 2021-2022.

District Superintendent Austin Beutner said he was delighted the deal was reached. But he hinted that financial challenges remained.

“The issue has always been how do we pay for it?” Beutner said. “That issue does not go away now that we have a contract. We can’t solve 40 years of underinvestment in public education in just one week or just one contract.”

Under the tentative agreement, the district, the union and the mayor’s office will work jointly to “advocate for increasedcounty and state funding” for Los Angeles schools, according to the UTLA summary.

The Board of Education met in closed session on Tuesday and was expected to move quickly to ratify the deal, which would expire at the end of June 2022.

The deal came as teachers in Denver were finishing up a vote on whether to go on strike as soon as next Monday. The main sticking point is increasing base pay and lessening teachers’ reliance on one-time bonuses for having students with high test scores or working in a high-poverty school.

In Oakland, California, some teachers called in sick last week as part of an unofficial rally over their contract negotiations, which also hinge partly on a demand for smaller class sizes.

Thousands of boisterous educators, many wearing red, and their supporters gathered on the steps outside City Hall.

The crowd began cheering, blowing horns and chanting the initials of Caputo-Pearl as the smiling union leader emerged from the building and walked through the throng.

Joaquin Flores, a special education teacher, said he believed he would support the deal unless it weakened health care or didn’t go far enough to reduce class size.

“It’s almost like metaphoric,” Flores said. “The sun’s out. When we started, it was all rainy and cold. I feel like it’s a new day.”

Teacher Sharon Maloney said she was reluctant to support the deal without seeing the details. She was skeptical that the district had made enough concessions on class size, health care benefits for new teachers or that the superintendent would spend enough of about $2 billion in reserves.

“I suspect the motives of Beutner,” Maloney said. “If he doesn’t release some of that $2 billion and there’s no understanding for moving forward how he’s going to cut out this crap that we’re running at a deficit and yet our reserves are going up every year.”

Talks resumed Thursday at Garcetti’s urging. The mayor does not have authority over LAUSD, but he sought to help both sides reach an agreement after nearly two years of fruitless talks.

Clashes over pay, class sizes and support-staff levels in the district with 640,000 students led to its first strike in 30 years and prompted the staffing of classrooms with substitute teachers and administrators.

The district maintained that the union’s demands could bankrupt the school system, which is projecting a half-billion-dollar deficit this budget year and has billions obligated for pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers.

Teachers hoped to build on the “Red4Ed” movement that began last year in West Virginia and moved to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state. It spread from conservative states with “right to work” laws that limit the ability to strike to the more liberal West Coast with strong unions.

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