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Los Angeles Hires Substitutes in Preparation for Teacher Strike

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl addresses thousands of teachers in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 15. (Damian Dovarganes / AP)

The Los Angeles Unified School District has reportedly hired about 400 substitute teachers to work while teachers are on strike for better pay and classroom resources. Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), said that after 20 months of bargaining, the union’s 34,000 members are prepared to strike beginning Jan. 10.

“We have hired substitutes,” Austin Beutner, the district superintendent, told the Los Angeles Daily News, “We have made plans as to alternate curriculums for days that there is a strike but our goal is to make sure schools are safe and open so kids continue to learn. My concern first and foremost is the safety and well being of our students.”

The union struck back at Beutner—a former investment banker with no experience in education leadership prior to his hiring in May—for failing to offer teachers a contract that met their requests. “It is outrageously irresponsible for Supt. Austin Beutner to force this strike when the district holds $1.9 billion in reserves and it is even more irresponsible to think that 400 substitutes can educate more than 600,000 students,” UTLA said in a statement Friday.

“The people Beutner says he hired will never replace the hard-working LAUSD teachers and substitutes who have dedicated their lives to LAUSD,” the union added.

Teachers are concerned that Beutner will issue cuts to the district while resources are funneled to privately managed charter schools. Critics worry that privatization, which is supported by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, allows schools to pursue the interests of the corporations that run them with little public oversight.

“First, the politicians intentionally defund our schools, then they demonize educators, and then they say that so-called ‘school choice’ is the only solution. Every year, LAUSD loses $600 million to charters,” said UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye. “We have the money in California for an amazing school system—we have the most billionaires of any state in the country. But we also have the most inequality,” Inouye said.

While some parents expressed frustration about the interruption to the school year, others, like Jenna Schwartz, the PTA president at Colfax Charter Elementary in North Hollywood, said that they support the teachers. “Everything [teachers are] asking for is for us. It benefits us,” she said. “They want smaller classroom sizes. They want less testing. I’m keeping my kids home. We don’t cross picket lines.”

Schwartz’s daughter, Zoe, who is in fifth grade, said that she and her 37 classmates experience difficulty during classes because the room is so crowded it is hard for students to see the whiteboard.

It is unclear who was hired to teach during the strike, because the union represents about 2,000 substitutes, who will also be picketing. “We believe that it is illegal for the district to hire people outside our bargaining unit to teach in LAUSD classrooms,” UTLA said in a statement.

“I don’t know where these subs came from. Our local subs, they’re not going to cross picket lines,” Schwartz said.

The teachers union has listed several demand on its website, including smaller class sizes, more nurses and librarians, more arts education, fair wages and less emphasis on testing. “Years of underfunding, the unregulated growth of the charter industry, and district neglect have starved our schools of necessary resources,” the union said in a statement.

According to LAUSD, students will still be expected to attend school during the strike and meal programs for low-income students will not change. A pamphlet from the district on preparing for a strike advised parents to simplify the strike into a two-sided argument: “You can tell your children that sometimes adults have disagreements so they need to get together to talk about it, and work together to find solutions. Conversations about a strike should be personalized to the age of the child. Assure your children that they didn’t do anything wrong.”

Naomi LaChance
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

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