State labor board sets dates to meet with LA Unified, teachers union

Grand park rally UTLA

UTLA rally at Grand Park Feb. 26, 2014

Now that LA Unified and UTLA have agreed that they can’t agree, they’re headed for mediation later this month.

The state Public Employment Relations Board has assigned a mediator to accomplish in three sessions what the two sides were unable to do in 18 meetings over seven months: negotiate a long-overdue contact for the 35,000-member teachers union.

The dates of the sessions are set: March 26, April 6, and April 15. But they could extend beyond that window, an official with PERB told LA School Report today. She said it’s conceivable that it could take “much longer.”

“The mediator’s job is to keep the parties engaged in discussions until they reach an agreement,” she said.

Only the mediator can determine that the two sides are unable to reach a resolution. If that happens, she explained, negotiation cease, triggering a “Fact Finding” process in which each side is required to produce records and data that bolster its bargaining position.

Some district officials have speculated the teachers union is biding its time until May when the governor will present his revised budget, often called “the May revise.” The California Legislative Analyst’s Office has projected a boost of $2 billion in anticipated revenues, which is good news for teachers who have been told repeatedly that the district doesn’t have the money for a bigger pay raise.

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Thousands of LA teachers rally downtown for new contract

It was dubbed the “Stand at Grand,” and while it may not have drawn as many as the “Thrilla in Manilla,” it was an impressive turnout of thousands of Los Angeles Unified teachers at Grand Park last night as they rallied to demand a new contract.

With City Hall behind him and a massive crowd of teachers and supporters in front of him, Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the teachers union, UTLA, took the stage at the end of the rally, but before he even spoke, his point was already made: the show of force and size of the crowd was the whole point of the gathering.

Caputo-Pearl claimed there were 15,000 people at the park. A group of police officers assigned to the rally told LA School Report they estimated the number at 8,000 to 10,000. Whatever the number, the downtown park was filled with teachers eager to show their willingness to go on strike if asked.

“The goal today is to show that we are not afraid to go out on strike, that if we don’t meet an agreement that we will go out on strike,” said Monica Multer, a teacher at Melvin Avenue Elementary.

The rally comes as the first major event in the wake of an impasse in negotiations between the union and LA Unified, which the two sides declared earlier this month. Negotiations have dragged on for months, with the union rejecting the district’s latest offer of a five percent raise, an increase in starting salary and millions of dollars to reduce class size.

The sides remain an estimated $800 million apart as the union is seeking the first raise for its members in eight years. UTLA’s last demand before the impasse was for a 8.5 percent raise. The district has said that meeting the demands would mean large cuts to other areas of the budget as well as layoffs.

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Analysis: A big week for the teachers to demonstrate what they want

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

“Most of our early escalation tactics are about building solidarity among members, because a 35,000 member union can’t win a fight against the corporate education ‘reformers’ lined up against us with anything less than 35,000 members active in the fight.”

That’s what it says on the UTLA website, which makes this a critical week for teachers in their fight for a bigger raise than LA Unified is offering so far.

Scheduled for Thursday is the latest of the teacher union’s “escalating actions,” a rally planned for downtown called, “Making Our Stand at Grand,” a reference to the downtown location. It’s a chance for the union to stand up to the district with a show of unity and resolve.

But it represents something else, as well, coming at a time negotiations for a new contract have gone nowhere, with both sides calling in a mediator and Superintendent Ramon Cortines, as he did on Friday, affirming his belief that closing a $160 million deficit takes preference over giving UTLA more than the 5 percent raise on the table.

Thursday is a also referendum on the Union Power leadership team led by President Alex Caputo-Pearl, whose ascension to office last year was built on the possible need of a final showdown, of sorts, with a district that has made teachers collateral damage in the nation’s long recession.

For nearly eight years, teachers have soldiered on, enduring layoffs and furloughs without so most as a Christmas turkey, let alone a cost of living raise.

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Cortines says deficit is cutting programs, jobs and teacher raises

Ramon Cortines Dec. 9, 2014LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines had a stern warning today for the LA teachers union as well as for the district, itself:

Not only are teachers not getting the salary increases they have been demanding in the now stalled contract negotiations, he said, but with a remaining budget deficit of $160 million, he has already begun cutting programs for next year. Layoffs, he said, are next.

What’s most likely to be cut? “Everything!” Cortines said. “I have been meeting with all of the divisions to reduce our expenses.”

Cortines’s announcement came in a rare meeting with reporters who cover LA Unified. It was a startling message, given the steady insistence by the teachers union, UTLA, that new state money coming into the district this year would be enough to give teachers a sizable raise after none for nearly eight years.

But Cortines was having none of it: Just hours earlier, he said, he approved a 10 percent cut in a single department although he would not say which one. He also repeated his expectation that LA Unified students will have access to technology but not necessary through the one-to-one program created by former Superintendent John Deasy designed to give every student a laptop or digital tablet.

“As I have stated before publicly, we are committed to providing technology to our children—whether it be desktop computer labs, laptops or tablets—to help prepare them for the 21st century,” Cortines said in a statement hours later issued by the district to amplify his position. “However, as we are reviewing our lessons learned, there must be a balanced approach to spending bond dollars to buy technology when there are so many brick and mortar and other critical facility needs that must be met.”

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UTLA says money is there for teachers; LA Unified not so sure

(Photo: UTLA Facebook page)

(Photo: UTLA Facebook page)

Fueling the impasse announced yesterday between the teachers union, UTLA, and LA Unified is a dispute over so-called “unaccounted” sources of money that the teachers union says could be used for raises and other demands.

“We are bargaining in good faith but when we uncover a $59 million pot of money the district doesn’t know if it still has, it doesn’t build a lot of confidence when they say they’re broke,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report today.

He is referring to a $59 million one-time Common Core fund that was split up and sent to individual school sites at the start of the year. According to the district, schools were given autonomy on spending, and it’s only now that they are reporting back to the central office how the money has been used. As information dribbles in, it has left a lot of confusion on the running total thus far.

Tom Waldman, a district spokesman, confirmed today UTLA’s claim, that the one-time funds expire June 30, meaning anything left unspent will vanish.

“Obviously, no one is saying this money will solve all of our financial difficulty,” Caputo-Pearl added. “But how do we know there aren’t more sources of money we don’t know about?” he asked.

Another point of contention leading the union to seek a neutral third-party voice in the stalled negotiations, is a new report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, projecting another $2 billion in state revenues next year.

“Much of that will go to K-12 education,” Caputo-Pearl said.

However, district officials say it’s too early to begin counting those chickens. Final school budget numbers are reported in May.

In the meantime, Caputo-Pearl says the union will strive to reach a compromise with the district even as the two sides are requesting mediation from the state Public Employees Relations Board.

“We have by no means, drawn a line in the sand,” he said. “We’re waiting on the district to make us a counter offer on a number of issues.”

To generate more public support for its contract demands, UTLA is planning a rally, called “Making our stand at Grand,” at Grand Park on Feb 26.  Speakers will include the presidents of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, along with the president of National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union.

Still far apart, teachers union, LA Unified agree to declare an impasse

UTLA-Contract-NegotiationsThe possibility of a strike by Los Angeles teachers loomed larger today as the teachers union, UTLA, declared an impasse in negotiations with LA Unified, citing a lack of progress in bargaining since the talks began last year.

The district agreed and said it would join the union with “reluctant willingness” in asking the state Public Employment Relations Board to affirm that the talks are deadlocked.

The declaration starts a detailed legal process defined by state law, designed to give the sides the best chance to resolve differences. It could take about a month before they exhaust the steps along the way, leading to an agreement or a strike.

The sides have made little progress on a dozen issues, including a pay raise for teachers, who haven’t had one in more than seven years. After 18 bargaining sessions, it became apparent today that the gulfs on salaries and everything else are too wide to close without outside help.

If the PERB affirms that the talks are deadlocked, a mediator would be assigned to help the sides find common ground and bring them to an agreement. Negotiations can continue during the mediation process, but if it proves unsuccessful, the process would continue with a fact-finding panel — a representative from each side and a state-appointed neutral as chairman — to recommend terms of a settlement.

If no agreement is achieved, the sides could resume negotiations, the district could impose its best and final offer and, rejecting it, the union could strike.

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Teachers union flatly rejects latest LA Unified labor contract offer

UTLA-Contract-NegotiationsThe teachers union today made it official, flatly rejecting LA Unified’s most recent contract offer, which included a five percent salary rise, a nine percent increase in minimum salary for first-year teachers and additional money to lower class size.

With the union sticking by its demand of an 8.5 percent salary increase, the sides remain $800 million apart, according to district calculations. A district statement released tonight said its negotiators asked their counterparts to identify other sources for the money but did not, apparently, get a response.

“I’m very disappointed in UTLA’s unwillingness to accept our responsible offer,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in the statement. “We are dealing with a budget that has had a deficit for three years and we are trying to balance it. Again, we must learn to live within our means as we preserve vital and necessary educational services for our students.”

The union, UTLA, confirmed its rejection in a short statement, adding, “The offer was insufficient. No new proposals were offered today by either side.”

UTLA remains the only district labor partner that remains without a new contract. The others have accepted a two percent salary increase, which the teachers scoffed at when they were offered the same amount in the district’s opening offer.

About the only good news emerging from today’s meeting is that there is another bargaining session scheduled on Feb. 18, with additional meetings to follow though the end of March.

Whether any amount of time will make much of a difference is the open question. In his response to district-wide teacher protests this morning, Cortines hinted that the district’s latest offer may be it’s last, and his statement tonight did little to alter that impression.

The teachers, on the other hand, have not had a raise in more than seven years and have spent months drumming up community support for their demands.

After several concessions on its salary demand over the months —  from 10 percent to 9 to the most recent 8.5 percent — the union’s unwillingness to lower it again suggests that it, too, may have hit a bargaining redline.

If it’s true that both sides have reached a limit, the possibility of a strike would appear all the more real.

Teachers stage district-wide protest as LAUSD holds firm on money

UTLA teachers protesting at Carver Middle School this morning  (Credit: UTLA)

UTLA teachers protesting at Carver Middle School this morning (photo credit: UTLA)

The LA Unified teachers staged one of its biggest “escalations” yet in support of their demands in a new contract from the district, staging demonstrations at schools across the district.

The teachers union, UTLA, said “virtually every school was participating” in protests that lasted 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the school.

“These people have been the heroes of education for the past eight years,” Alex Caputo-Pearl, the union president, said at a press conference this morning at Carver Middle School in south Los Angeles. “They are dealing with some of the highest class sizes and staffing ratios and have endured years without a raise. LAUSD has more than 3,000 classes with more than 45 students in them. The things we are demanding—lower class sizes, fully staffed schools and fair compensation—are not radical. They are necessary. School employees have been breaking their backs to make up for a lack of staffing and resources at schools, but it’s too much to sustain. Now’s the time to turn this around.”

Just as teachers moved inside to begin classes, district Superintendent Ramon Cortines issued a statement in response to the demonstrations that seemed to suggest the district’s most recent salary increase offer might be its last.

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Teachers union super PAC ups spending to defend Kayser’s seat

Bennett Kayser ULTA PACEThe teachers union super PAC is starting to spend on behalf of school board District 5 incumbent Bennett Kayser, unleashing a flurry of campaign pieces to defend his seat in what is shaping up to be the most hotly contested race in this election.

To date, the Super PAC, an independent expenditure committee, run by UTLA-PACE, has spent more than $128,000 on direct mail pieces in English and Spanish in support of Kayser’s re-election. According to filings at City Ethics, half of that has gone into a radio ad that features two actresses playing the parts of voters. (See script here – and note the misspelling of “Bennett.”)

A super PAC led by the California Charter School Association (CCSA) has spent nearly the same amount, $129,000, on behalf of one of Kayser’s challengers, Ref Rodriguez, a charter school operator. Some of it goes negative.

Kayser, a 69-year-old retired science teacher from Echo Park was first elected in 2011 in a bitter battle against Luis Sanchez, a reform candidate supported by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

In that election, UTLA-PACE spent more than $1.4 million on Kayser’s behalf, and he won narrowly in a run-off. During his four years on the board, his policies have hewed closely to the interests of the leadership of the teachers union, frequently voicing criticism of charter schools and opposing the policies of reform-minded superintendent John Deasy, who stepped down last year.

That makes him a prime target for reformers, many of whom back Rodriguez. A second challenger, Andrew Thomas, has positioned himself as more neutral in the teachers vs. reformers smackdown.

LA Unified increases salary offer to teachers, but does it really?

UTLA-Contract-NegotiationsLA Unified today revised its salary offer to the teachers union today, increasing the level of raises to 5 percent, one percent above its previous offer.

But the additional money for professional development that was included in the earlier offer, which the district had valued at another 2 percent, was not part of the new offer. The district said that money was reallocated to support the extra one percent, making it appear that the newest offer was less than the previous.

In any case, the union quickly rejected the revision, releasing a statement this evening that said, “UTLA is holding firm in our demand for an 8.5 percent one year increase for educators who have not had a pay raise or a cost of living adjustment in nearly eight years.”

The district also revised its proposal on several other issues, including minimum salary and class size, But the union gave no indication that it drew the sides any closer to an agreement than they had been — and “close” would hardly describe it, six months into the talks.

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Teachers union fails again to recommend endorsing Vladovic

Richard Vladovic

Richard Vladovic

The slow pace of progress toward a new contract in the teachers union negotiations with LA Unified is, so far, costing Board President Richard Vladovic any possibility of union support for his reelection.

The UTLA political action committee met last night, and a motion to recommend an endorsement to the union’s House of Representatives failed to win enough support to send it forward, according to a person close to the process.

“Members were upset about the lack of movement in the negotiations and his lack opinion on the issue,” the person said.

The union did not endorse Vladovic in his previous runs for the board, in 2007 and 2011.

So far this year, the union has endorsed only two of the four incumbents running — George McKenna, who is unopposed in District 1, and Bennett Kayser, who is facing two challengers in District 5.

The union has not endorsed anyone in District 3, where Tamar Galatzan is facing five challengers, including Scott Schmerelson, a retired teacher. As a strong supporter of charter schools, Galatzan would be the most unlikely board member to win a UTLA endorsement.

The lack of UTLA support for Vladovic, bidding for a third term, could provide a boost to one of his two challengers — Euna Anderson, a principal and former teacher. The other, Lydia Gutierrez, a teacher and former candidate for state Superintendent of Instruction, is a Republican and Tea Party favorite whose politics would not line up with the union’s.

The union is expected to take up the possibility of an endorsements for District 3 and 7 again next week.

AFT president Weingarten visits town to give LA teachers a boost

Weingarten at AFT convention

Randi Weingarten

As the teachers union’s negotiations with LA Unified drag on, one of the nation’s leading voices for teachers appeared at an event last night hosted by district board member Steve Zimmer and made a strong case for union activity and solidarity.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, delivered a fire-and- brimstone-type address to Zimmer’s class at Occidental College, where he is a professor of Policy Debates and Controversies in Public Education.

During her hour-long remarks, she dropped to her knees, religious-revival style, raised her hands to the sky and thanked teachers for their commitment to children. In alluding to the local school board elections a month from now, she framed them as a battle between the virtuous and the unvirtuous, saying that only by running with a righteous agenda, “can we reclaim the promise of public education.”

“I don’t care if it’s the Broad [Foundation] or the Walton [Family Foundation] or whoever the hell is against us, we can stare them down with our righteousness,” she said, her arms outstretched. “It is community that gives us the moral certainty to make the fight for public education. At one point, an “Amen” came from the back row of the auditorium.

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Zimmer moderating UTLA panel discussion on union issues

Steve Zimmer

Steve Zimmer

UTLA, the LA Unified teachers union, is offering tonight an unvarnished public view of its bargaining position in negotiations with LA Unified for a new teachers contract.

Board member Steve Zimmer is scheduled to moderate a panel discussion at Occidental College that includes UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Martha Sanchez of Alliance of Californians for Community Development.

The event begins at 7 p.m.

Weingarten is participating to demonstrate support for UTLA, which has been demanding lower class sizes, full staffing, restored funding of adult and early childhood education and higher salaries as part of its negotiations with the district. She ias also expected to discuss how the issues in Los Angeles are playing out across the country

The UTLA-district talks have produced little progress so far after months of negotiating although sources on both sides say parallel talks are underway to help close the gap.

Weingarten is also planning to appear with Caputo-Pearl and others at a news conference tomorrow morning at Slawson Southeast Occupational Center, a career and technical education facility that primarily serves adult students.

“Our class sizes are too large and our schools are not staffed fully to support the needs of our students,” Caputo-Pearl said in a news release from the union. “LAUSD educators are not being compensated fairly and we are in real danger of losing them to other, higher paying districts, and recruiting educators to LAUSD is getting increasingly more difficult.”

Teachers union — for now — has no plans to endorse Vladovic

Richard Vladovic

Richard Vladovic

The chairman of the the political action committee for the LA teachers union, UTLA, said today that, for now, the union has no plan to endorse Board President Richard Vladovic for reelection to the LA Unified District 7 board seat.

Marco Flores said the committee’s next meeting, tomorrow, does not include a recommendation to endorse Vladovic, although that could change.

“There is an expectation that eventually UTLA will endorse Vladovic,” he said, choosing his words carefully and declining to comment further.

A lack of an endorsement from the teachers, while likely not fatal to his reelection chances, would symbolize a major change in the union’s relations with Vladovic, who joined the board in 2007 and became its president six years later. He is facing two challengers in his bid for a third term although neither of them, Euna Anderson or Lydia Gutierrez, is likely to win the teachers stamp of approval.

Vladovic has been a relatively steady ally of UTLA in board votes, and the pronouncement that en endorsement might not be there yet could be viewed as leverage at a time the district immersed in negotiations with the union for a new teachers contract.

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LA Unified, teachers union bargaining: same as it ever was

UTLA-Contract-Negotiations unionThe slow pace of negotiations between LA Unified and the teachers union, UTLA, continued yesterday, with the district proposing new language on employee evaluations, transfers and early retirement incentives and no counter-offers this time from the union on those issues or anything else.

That leaves the talks about where they’ve been, with all 12unresolved issues still unresolved.

That includes salary raises, on which the sides are 4.5 percent apart. The union is demanding raises of 8.5 percent a year; the district is offering 4 percent. The subject did not come up yesterday.

And so another month and 17th negotiating session pass with no agreement, leaving teachers earning the same as they did more than seven years ago.

Another session is scheduled for next week.

2 LAUSD roles now 1, UTLA president takes case to talk radio

school report buzz

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles and LA Unified reached an agreement last week to consolidate two positions into one. The role of “assistant principal” and “instructional specialist” as of July 1 will be merged into the role of “assistant principal elementary” or “assistant principal secondary.”

The change was explained by AALA in its weekly newsletter: “APs and ISs have similar duties and responsibilities at school sites and often are used interchangeably. However, APs earn seniority while instructional specialists are temporary advisers and do not earn seniority. ISs may be released from their positions at any time with no recourse. Some superintendents have encouraged principals to use the budget process to replace APs with ISs which has destabilized schools, caused job insecurity and decreased the number of APs throughout the District. Consolidation will afford greater protections to all while stabilizing school staffs.”

Caputo-Pearl on KABC 790

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the LA Unified teachers union, UTLA, appeared yesterday morning on the KABC 790 radio show McIntire In the Morning to give his response to a sharp letter from LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines that criticized the union’s contract demands as unreasonable and a path to severe layoffs in the district.

There weren’t any huge surprises in Caputo-Pearl’s comments, but his appearance on the show along with the Cortines letter certainly illustrates how both sides are ramping up their PR campaigns as contract negotiations appear to be stalling.

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UTLA helping raise money for family of boy killed at middle school

Steven Cruz

Steven Cruz

UTLA, the teachers union, is helping raise money for the family of a 14-year-old boy who was killed outside Griffith Middle School in east LA last week. The family is seeking donations to help pay for his funeral expenses and remains short of the $15,000 needed as of today.

Steven Cruz, a student at nearby Garfield High School, was on Griffith school grounds meeting a friend after school when he was attacked by another student and stabbed, according to media reports.

The attack occurred around 3:10 p.m. Friday and Cruz was rushed to a hospital and pronounced dead at 3:48 p.m., the Los Angeles Times reported. A suspect, who turned out to be a 13-year-old boy, was arrested the next day and charged yesterday with murder. His name has not been released because he is a juvenile.

The suspect is a possible gang member, but friends of Cruz said he had no gang ties and police have yet to release what the motive for the attack may have been, according to ABC7. Before the stabbing the suspect reportedly asked Cruz where he was from, which is a common tactic used by LA-area gang members to determine someone’s gang affiliation or to claim certain turf as their own.

UTLA has posted a link on its website and Facebook page to help raise awareness for the fundraising campaign, with a note reading: “Our thoughts and prayers go to the Cruz family after this unthinkable tragedy that occurred at Griffith MS on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015.”

The GoFundMe campaign for Cruz includes a message from his family that says the teen was “in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” It also reads, “He pursued everything with enthusiasm and that’s what is so memorable of him. His enthusiasm, his energy, and his laugh would always make your day. If you were having a bad day, he was able to make you laugh.”

Cortines breaks silence on teacher talks, lashes out at union

Ramon Cortines union* UPDATED

LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines today for the first time publicly inserted himself into the district’s contract negotiations with the teachers union, calling its latest demands “entirely unrealistic” and asserting that they raise “serious ethical and equity issues” for the district.

Pointing out that all the district’s other unions have agreed to new contracts within the current economic landscape, he chided UTLA for its bargaining stance over 16 negotiating sessions, saying, “It is regrettable that the current UTLA leadership has gone in an entirely different direction.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the UTLA president, told LA School Report that he found Cortines’s two-page letter to “Employees and Labor Partners” “unfortunate” and “unacceptable” at a time he and other UTLA officials have been meeting with Cortines and district officials apart from the negotiations in a “problem-solving mode.”

“Unfortunately, the Superintendent is using scare tactics in response to our efforts to organize in our ‘school blitz’ campaign,” Caputo-Pearl said, adding that Cortines’s message comes as the state is putting more money into public K-through-12 education and the district is still finding money for huge legal settlements and the continuing array of technology problems.

“To say he can’t do this,” Caputo-Pearl said of meeting union demands, “is just unacceptable.”

Until now, Cortines had kept himself out of the spotlight except to encourage more dialogue between the two sides. But in his letter, he did not mince words, calling on UTLA leaders to “re-examine and reconsider their present demands and their single-minded pursuit and organization of a disruptive strike against our students and the community to achieve those demands.”

The strident tone of the message suggests that Cortines had a wider audience in mind.

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Analysis: New contract for LA teachers seems a long way off

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

How long have they been at it now, four, five six months?

Whatever it is, negotiators for LA Unified and the teachers union, UTLA, appear as close to agreement on a new labor contract as they were when bargaining began.

Maybe they are inching forward on some issues. But the fact remains, teachers are still without a pay raise, as they have been since World War II, it seems, and the pace of talks gives no indication a deal is within reach.

And that makes perfect sense.

Even with one of the union’s prime objectives completed —  the departure of former Superintendent John Deasy — an agreement seems well off in the distance, and here are three reasons why:

First, the union might find a better deal on the other side of this year’s school board elections, in which four members are running to hold their seats — George McKenna, Tamar Galatzan, Bennett Kayser and President Richard Vladovic.

The current board leans pro-UTLA on many issues, with two strong union supporters in Kayser and Monica Ratliff and three members whose votes are less predictable but generally teacher friendly in Vladovic, Steve Zimmer and McKenna.

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