UTLA wanted immigrant parents’ support for a teachers strike. Instead, parents wanted to know, ‘How would this strike guarantee a high-quality education for our children?’
Esmeralda Fabián Romero | September 10, 2018
What will we do with our kids if the teachers go out on strike?
To find answers to that question, about two dozen public school parents gathered Monday morning at a prominent Latino community organization in downtown Los Angeles. They had invited a teachers union representative to their monthly meeting so they could learn more about why LA teachers are planning to strike and what would happen with their children.
Instead, what they heard left them confused and frustrated.
“We wanted to know more about their demands, but all we heard is that they want us to commit in supporting them to go on strike. But how are they committing to our community, to our kids? I wanted to know how they were preparing to support our kids if they go on strike for those two weeks, but we heard none of that,” Juventina Hernández, whose grandchildren attend LA Unified schools, said after the at least hour-long presentation by Ilse Escobar, a United Teachers Los Angeles community representative, at the downtown headquarters of Central American Resource Center, or CARECEN. “We were here to be informed and analyze the situation, but they (the union) couldn’t respond to our concerns.”
Azucena González, a mother of two students at John Marshall High School, said the presentation was focused on “convincing us to give them our support, what they are asking for them, what is in their best interest. That’s all we heard.”
González said she wished she would have heard a reciprocal commitment from the teachers union to improve the quality of education in LA schools and not only asking for parents’ support now that they plan to strike.
Margarita Gilley, who has a high schooler at Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, said the union “knows very well our needs, and then they used them to lie to us. Out of the entire presentation, I didn’t see anything that reflected our real needs, only their needs. I’m glad most of us didn’t sign their petition.”
The parents are members of the Leadership Parent Council at CARECEN, a community organization serving primarily Central Americans and Latino immigrants in Los Angeles. All the parents at Monday’s meeting, which was held in Spanish, are immigrants, and most have children at traditional neighborhood schools; one has a child at an independent charter school, Palisades Charter High School. They meet regularly and sometimes travel together to Sacramento to support legislation to improve education.
The parents said they know there are good teachers in the district who deserve better working conditions, including lower class sizes. That’s why they asked to hear from the teachers union.
And they came to the meeting with an open mind about a possible teachers strike. But most left feeling frustrated.
Alberta Monroy, who has children at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, said the presentation left her feeling confused.
“In part, I feel like what teachers are asking for would benefit our kids. In my son’s class, there are 40 students, that’s too much for one class. Teachers have it very difficult to teach such a large class. But on the other hand, I’m not sure if they should have my support or how this strike would guarantee a high-quality education for our children.”
González said she attended the meeting eager to learn about the salary increase the teachers are asking for — how much it would be and why. “We didn’t hear any of that. We didn’t even hear what percentage of class reduction they are asking for.”
The union representative left a petition for parents to sign, called “Joining Educators in the Fight to Improve Our Schools.” Of more than a dozen parents who stayed after the presentation to speak to LA School Report, none had signed the petition. They said only about four people had signed in support before Escobar, the union representative, left with the petition.
Before the meeting started, Escobar told the CARECEN organizer, Susana Zamorano, that she would not give her presentation to the parents if the LA School Report reporter was in the room. No other media were present.
Zamorano, parent leadership coordinator and organizer for CARECEN, clarified that the organization “has no position in favor or against the strike. This meeting was organized per parents’ request and has only an informative objective,” she said after the meeting when the majority of the parents chose to remain in the room for another hour to talk to LA School Report.
When the parents learned afterward that the reporter had been asked to leave, some were angry.
“If I would have known the union representative did that, we would have stepped out too. No one can come and tell us what to hear, what to do, or what to say,” Gilley said, adding that nothing like that has ever happened before at their meetings.
“CARECEN has been very supportive in keeping us informed and educated about how we can be leaders and improve our kids’ education,” Gilley said.
The parents asked CARECEN to coordinate the meeting to find answers about the possible strike, because they haven’t been able to find answers at their school sites, Monroy said.
Rocío Campos, who has a son at Miguel Contreras, said the UTLA presentation focused on the salary of the district’s superintendent, the district’s budget reserves, and the 174 percent salary increase LA Unified board members received last year.
“The reason why we are here today was to know why they are planning to go on strike. What we heard is that the district is receiving a lot of money and they asked where is that money, which I agree with, but what I’m really in favor of is that the teachers provide high-quality teaching in our schools. The presenter, Ilse, said teachers don’t receive pay for their extra work, which in my own experience that’s a lie, because my school has a budget to pay teachers overtime,” said Campos, who is part of a parent council at her school. “What she said about teachers donating their time is a lie. Our school budget does include their overtime pay.”
González said, “We didn’t hear about the increase the union is asking for and they didn’t ask for our opinion, the same way the board didn’t ask if we agreed to their raise. However, a teacher deserves a raise as they are dealing with our students in the classroom.”
UTLA is “talking about politicians, the money of the superintendent, which I really don’t care about. If we are going to question the money, then we should ask for an audit to the board and for the union too,” Campos said. “Where is all that money? Mostly all of our schools — public, charters — don’t have enough money, enough resources.”
UTLA and the LA Unified School District are at an impasse after more than a year and a half of bargaining. Late last month 98 percent of union members voted to authorize UTLA to call a strike. The UTLA House of Representatives at its Sept. 5 meeting voted to approve the transfer of up to $3 million from the union’s strike fund to its general fund in order to be ready for immediate use. The two sides will meet with a mediator Sept. 27.
The union denies that a strike date has been set, which would be illegal under terms of mediation, but one teacher and union representative wrote in the Los Angeles Times that a strike date had been set for Oct. 3.
“The protections the teachers are getting from the union is what affects the students because it doesn’t matter what the teaching quality is — the teacher remains there, protected. However, I’m not against the teachers’ fight to get better conditions, but they didn’t clarify what they are asking for specifically,” González said. “The board is also not clarifying why they need to keep the district’s reserves. We need clarification.”
Zamorano said that if teachers strike, it would be very difficult for CARECEN to respond because the needs of parents would be far greater than the resources. “We’re seeing a very difficult scenario to respond to the needs. We have been trying to find the best way to respond,” she said.
Monroy said she wouldn’t have an option — she would have to keep her children at home.
Julia Venegas, whose daughter graduated from LA Unified and now attends Cal State Northridge University, said, “We are only dozens of parents here, but there are thousands of families who don’t even know about the possibility of a strike, if both parents work full time, what are they going to do with them. This is why we were here, to hear about their options” and what suggestions the union would have for parents whose children wouldn’t be able to go to school. “But we heard none of that,” she said.
“If the strike occurs, our children would be the most affected. We will have to keep them at home. If it doesn’t happen, are we OK with not having any improvements at our schools? That’s something we will decide. The fact that some of us don’t speak English doesn’t mean we’re not literate or capable of making up our own minds in support or against it,” González concluded.