(AP) – Teachers walked rainy picket lines Thursday at Los Angeles schools for a fourth day ahead of a new round of contract negotiations that a union leader said is unlikely to quickly end the walkout.
“After 21 months of negotiations I think it would be an unrealistic expectation to say that this is going to be over after today because there are hard issues to work through,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti announced it would facilitate the latest talks at City Hall. The announcement didn’t indicate whether any new contract offers would be on the table.
The mayor does not have authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District but he has sought to help both sides reach an agreement.
Talks broke off last week, sending tens of thousands of teachers onto the street.
Clashes over pay, class sizes and support-staff levels in the district with 640,000 students led to its first strike in 30 years and prompted the staffing of classrooms with substitute teachers and administrators.
Parents and children have joined the protests despite heavy rain that has drenched the city. Overall attendance fell to 132,000 students on Wednesday.
With state funding dependent on attendance, student absences cost the district about $69 million over three days, the district said. At the same time, it doesn’t have to spend about $10 million a day on teacher pay.
All 1,240 K-12 schools in the district were open – a departure from successful strikes in other states that emboldened the LA union to act. Each school’s principal will decide whether absent students face consequences.
Some parents who sent their kids to school wondered how much learning was happening, as students were gathered into large groups to be supervised by fewer adults.
The union rejected the district’s latest offer to hire nearly 1,200 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians and to reduce class sizes by two students.
It also included a previously proposed 6 percent raise over the first two years of a three-year contract. The union wants a 6.5 percent hike at the start of a two-year contract.
District officials have said teacher demands could bankrupt the school system. Superintendent Austin Beutner has urged the teachers to join him in pushing for more funding from the state, which provides 90 percent of the district’s money.
LA Unified says teachers’ demands run up against an expected half-billion-dollar deficit this budget year and billions that are obligated for pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers.
The union says the district is hoarding reserves of $1.8 billion. It represents more than 30,000 teachers who earn between $44,000 and $86,000 a year, depending on education and experience.
AP reporter John Antczak contributed to this report.