A. Garcia / SFVS

Two students head back to school as the teacher’s strike against the LAUSD ended.

The Marquee at San Fernando Elementary read “Welcome Back Teachers – Bienvenidos Maestros!” Balloons were up at the school entrance, a banner decorated with happy emojis hung in the school office.

“Everybody was happy,” said Angie Stoiloff, the school administrative assistant. “There was a feeling of overall relief,” she said. For the first time in over a week, students were able to return back to their regular classrooms and were greeted by their assigned teachers.

Thousands of students opted not to go to school during the strike, which caused the district to lose an estimated 151 million dollars for attendance based state funding. 

Parent Jennifer Rodriguez sent her sons Darren and Adan and daughter Joanna to a family daycare business rather than send them to school.

“We did it to support the teachers,” said Rodriguez as she dropped off the kids outside San Fernando Elementary School for their first day back.

She said at the daycare she thought her kids were better supervised and getting more attention.

“They were having to read and do homework, instead of just sitting in the cafeteria all day long,” Rodriguez said. “I just hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Parent Rosa Lara was also pleased as she dropped her daughter Jazmin de Santiago off at San Fernando Middle School.

Jazim only attended school on the first day of the strike, but left early.

“We were all in the cafeteria or the library. There was only one teacher. We were doing some work, but nothing really exciting,” Jazmin said. Hearing that, Lara decided not to send her daughter back to school during the strike.

“I was worried that no one was supervising them,” she added, being concerned that it would lead to problems and mischief. “A lot of people decided not to send (their kids to school) and stayed out because there wasn’t anybody teaching them,” Lara said.

While she was home, Jazmin said she read her school books and tried to do some work.

Sergio “Checo” Alonso, a music teacher at San Fernando High School agreed that parents, teachers and students were pleased to hear the news that an agreement was reached. “It was great to be back at school after six days of stiking. Like any negotiation, there are still teachers that are still not satisfied, but overwhelmingly teachers voted, “Yes.”

Alonso said it was nice to see the unity among teachers at San Fernando High School  and a strong picket line each day. Alonso with other mariachi musicians spontaneously formed “UTLA Mariachi” during the strike and played with the popular group Quetzal during the last rally downtown. It was there that he and thousands of other teachers heard the news that an agreement had been reached. While the agreement may be imperfect, he said that he trusts the leaders of UTLA to make the best decisions possible.

Many teachers expressed concern that they wouldn’t see an immediate change in the size of their classrooms under the new agreement which was a primary issue. They’ll also be playing catch up with their students and with their personal finances. There are no strike provisions to recoup their pay.

“We will feel the pinch next month when we don’t see 6 days of wages, but I was willing to continue to strike and keep going if we needed to, “ Alonso said. “On the first day back, the kids had a lot of questions. All in all, I think the parents and the long term fight is to protect the schools and the ongoing battle to fight privitization of education. This issue isn’t going away because of the strike and it will continue to be an ongoing fight to make sure that public education is protected.”

New Deal

The UTLA teachers strike began Jan. 14 for smaller class sizes and the hiring of more support staff, such as nurses, counselors and librarians, and a pay raise.

This was the first teacher’s strike since 1989. Marathon negotiations were mediated by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti who some have suggested is interested in running for higher office. Garcetti led the news conference in making the agreement announcement.

While “a vast super-majority” of teachers approved the tentative agreement Tuesday night, the agreement also requires formal approval by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is considered a formality.

“The strike nobody wanted is now behind us,”’ LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said at the City Hall news conference announcing the settlement.

But he also cautioned that “we can’t solve 40 years of under-investment in public education in just one week or just one contract. Now that all students and our educators are heading back to the classroom, we have to keep our focus and pay attention to the long-term solutions….The importance of this moment is public education is now the topic in every household in our community. Let’s capitalize on this. Let’s fix it.”

The deal includes a 6 percent pay raise for teachers, with 3 percent retroactive to the 2017-18 school year and another 3 percent retroactive to July 1, 2018.

It also includes provisions for providing a full-time nurse at all schools, along with a teacher-librarian. The proposal also calls for the hiring of 17 counselors by October, and outlines a phased-in reduction of class sizes over the next three school years, with additional reductions for “high needs” campuses.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the issue of class size is a key element of the pact. He said the district agreed to eliminate contract language he dubbed an “escape clause” that would allow the district to increase class sizes in the future.

According to the district, the proposed agreement’s provisions for reducing class sizes and hiring nurses, librarians and counselors will cost an estimated $175 million from 2019-21, and $228 million for 2021-22.

It was unclear exactly how the costs would be covered. Garcetti said the agreement’s various provisions would include a combination of funding or other support from the state, county and city.