Downtown Los Angeles was a sea of red, a veritable ocean of solidarity in support of the teachers of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) who are inching closer to a January work stoppage.
The recent Teachers March brought a throng of teachers, family members, friends and supporters – all wearing “red for ed(ucation)” – to downtown where estimates of more than 50,000 marchers moved from Grand Park to the Broad Museum.
LAUSD is the second largest public school system in the nation. Members of United Teachers Los Angeles are asking for pay raises, smaller class sizes (which would require hiring more teachers) and giving their members more leeway in testing and input into charter schools. The union is accusing the district of maintaining more than $2 billion in reserves that could be used to improve working conditions for teachers and their students alike.
“We’re here for the students,” said instructor Dawn Cerese as she pinned a sign to a co-worker’s shirt. “We are fighting so that in the future, they can have the support services that are needed for them including nurses, librarians, psychologists and other support staff.”
LAUSD and UTLA are in the final stages of their fact-finding before the union can legally strike. If the two sides don’t reach an accord, a strike is expected in mid-January, shortly after students return from winter break.
And what would need to happen in order to keep that outcome from happening?
“I don’t know and that’s what scares me,” said Ron Baer an English teacher at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School. “It’s been months and the two sides seem to be at an impasse. It’s serious and it looks like the strike is going to happen.”
Baer braved the crowds with his daughter Shayla, who had attended the Women’s March earlier in the year. Both Baers praised the high turnout and widespread support that the march drew.
“It’s nice to see everyone out here supporting my education,” Shayla said.
In addition to the thousands of LAUSD teachers and staff, the march also drew members of unions who took to the streets in a show of support. Carl Williams, a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers and the president of the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees, noted that California ranked 43rd in the nation in total spending per student.
“Our kids have to be our priority,” Williams said. “We have to put our money where our mouth is.”
Joanne Waddell, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 1521 – the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild – offered a similar sentiment. AFT-1521 is not part of the LAUSD negotiations, but after witnessing “the wholesale sellout of the public schools to the charter industry,” Waddell said that community college faculty could be “next up the line.”
“We’re here to make sure we keep the ‘public’ in public schools,” Waddell said.