The Los Angeles teachers' strike may have already cost millions, and it's only Day 2

Posted at 1:05 PM, Jan 15, 2019

A massive teachers' strike calling for millions of dollars more in school funding may have also cost the school district millions of dollars, the superintendent said.

But the Los Angeles teachers' union isn't backing down. In fact, by the end of Tuesday, it wants to "show such a massive presence that disrupts business as usual in downtown LA."

An estimated 32,000 Los Angeles teachers and staff members hit the picket lines Monday, demanding lower class sizes, higher salaries and more counselors and nurses in over 1,000 schools.

"We have 46, 45, 50 students in a class. It's unacceptable," said Andrea Cohen, a teacher at John Marshall High School.

Even though the Los Angeles Unified School District said all students should keep going to school -- possibly taught by substitute teachers or reassigned administrators -- many did not.

Only about 1/3 of the usual number of students who go to school on a rainy day actually showed up, Superintendent Austin Beutner said Tuesday. And because the state funds schools based on daily attendance, day one of the strike was extremely expensive.

"The district on a day like yesterday would lose approximately $25 million in funding," Beutner said. Of that, the lost wages of UTLA members not at work Monday was approximately $10 million.

None of that matters to members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, who are also taking a personal financial hit as they strike.

"I'm not rich. This is a sacrifice for me," said second-grade teacher Wendy Ron. "I am not getting paid while I'm out here."

'We just don't believe those numbers'

The months-long impasse between the UTLA union and LAUSD comes down to two issues: how much money to spend on more school staffing and teachers' raises, and whether the school district actually has that kind of money.

Beutner noted that an independent fact-finder agreed that the district doesn't have the money to cover UTLA's demands.

LAUSD has offered $130 million toward what the union wants, but UTLA rejected that proposal.

The teachers' union has a whole different take on the numbers.

UTLA says the school district should tap into $1.8 billion in reserves to fund more desperately needed staff members, as well as increasing teachers' pay.

The superintendent says that the $1.8 billion is already earmarked for education spending during this three-year budget cycle. At this rate, LAUSD said, it might not even have enough money to meet a required 1% reserve by the 2021-2022 school year.

But UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the school district has "always been wrong in their projections, so we just don't believe those numbers."

"The district's three-year projections have always been wrong," Caputo-Pearl said Tuesday. "Three years ago, they predicted a $105 million reserve; they ended with a $1.86 billion reserve. They were off by $1.7 billion."

But is the union fighting the right battle?

Beutner said the state actually provides 90% of the district's funding, not LAUSD.

The union president acknowledged that much of the requested money would have to come from Sacramento, and said it's taking steps to try to get it.

"We have been a big part of the fight for more state funding," Caputo-Pearl said. "We're in conversations with the governor's office -- that is a part of the puzzle. But that $2 billion reserve belongs with our students in classrooms. And that's an LAUSD issue."

Student calls school a waste of time now

While the adults keep struggling to find a resolution, students are still going to school minus their regular teachers.

With 32,000 educators on strike, LAUSD has hired about 400 substitute teachers and reassigned more than 2,000 administrators to help educate the 600,000 students.

In some cases, students were told to go to the auditorium instead of a regular classroom. CNN affiliate KCBS-TV said students at a South Los Angeles elementary school Monday were outside playing board games.

One student told KCBS that going to school Monday was a waste of time.

Many people wonder why LAUSD doesn't just close schools, with so many teachers missing. The superintendent said that for many low-income families, school may only safe place where children can go during the daytime and get a hot meal.

"I was asked yesterday by someone why I didn't just join teachers on the picket line, close our schools, and go to Sacramento (to) fight for more funding. Ninety percent of our funding comes from Sacramento, after all. ... It's a fair question," Beutner said Tuesday.

"Then I thought for a moment about Virgil Middle School and Telfair Elementary School."

At the middle school, "100% of the students in Virgil come from families living in poverty," Beutner said. And about 60% of those students went to school on the first day of the strike -- much higher than the average for the rest of the district Monday.

At Telfair, about 40% of students came. And about 20% of that school's children are homeless, Beutner said.

"They came for shelter from the rain. They came for a warm meal and a secure, welcoming environment," he said. "And yes, they came to learn."