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Antonucci: The Los Angeles teacher strike is almost here, but what comes after?

Mike Antonucci | January 8, 2019



Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

The strike by Los Angeles public school teachers is only a day or two away (or maybe a few more). Along with the thousands of picketers and dozens of local reporters covering the strike will come a parade of national media to delve into the contract stalemate for the first time.

I’ll do my best to provide insight as events occur, but with so much coverage the demand for unique stories will exceed the supply. This will inevitably lead to news inflation, similar to what you see on Election Night before any returns are available.

Whether it takes days or weeks, a settlement will eventually be reached. Regardless of the details, the district will congratulate itself on working it out, the union will trumpet its victory over the corporate privatization of schools, and students will return to class.

Then what?

The strike is just one in a series of events envisioned by Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, for almost two and a half years. The strike has only increased in importance during that time, since many of the other elements of his plan to “create a state crisis” have not come to fruition.

Here’s what happens in the aftermath of the strike:

* District 5 school board race. UTLA endorsed Jackie Goldberg for the seat. Should she win, the union will have a majority on the board. That will come in handy during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement and/or the ouster of current Superintendent Austin Beutner.

* UTLA rebuild. The education debate over class size reduction has raged for decades and won’t be decided one way or the other in Los Angeles. One undeniable benefit is the increase in the number of teachers will lead to an increase in the number of UTLA members.

Besides the numbers, the strike itself adds to UTLA’s prestige. In a new era when teachers are no longer required to financially support the union, UTLA hopes its muscular approach to labor relations will persuade waverers to join up and be organized.

* Charter school cap. This becomes a very high priority if the union wins that board majority. The obvious benefit for UTLA is the clamp it puts on non-union schools in a competition for students. Another less obvious benefit is the side effect of any class size reduction on charters co-located with traditional public schools. Smaller classes mean more space is needed, and pushing charters out would work out nicely for UTLA.

* State money. If you think UTLA’s demands begin and end with the purported $1.98 billion reserve L.A. Unified is holding, think again. In his latest column for the union’s monthly organ, Caputo-Pearl told members “there is a record-breaking $15 billion reserve at the state level, and an expected $15 billion additional state surplus.” The task is simple. “We just have to force the district and state to invest it in our kids, schools, and educators,” he wrote.

That might be easier said than done. Union-supported and newly sworn-in Gov. Gavin Newsom just promised to safeguard that reserve and surplus.

* Split roll property tax. If that weren’t enough, don’t forget the UTLA-backed Schools and Communities First initiative has already qualified for the 2020 ballot. It would remove Proposition 13 protections for commercial properties in an effort to procure an additional $11 billion a year for public education.

* Caputo-Pearl ascension. Caputo-Pearl is term-limited out as UTLA president in 2020, but don’t expect him to disappear from the spotlight or return to the classroom full time. I see him working his way up the teacher union hierarchy to state or national office. He will probably endorse an heir apparent. Who that might be is something for future L.A. Unified school board and superintendent candidates to consider, as it will certainly affect the conduct of district operations into the future.

One more thing: Neither side has offered a deal that extends beyond June 2019. When the strike is over, it will be only a few months before the contract expires, and the whole process will have to begin again.

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