Teachers who are on the verge of striking in Los Angeles Unified School District — barring a last-minute contract deal — say they are doing it for more than a bigger paycheck.

Rather, they say, they are fighting for the future of public education in a district in which 1 in 5 students attend charter schools. Superintendent Austin Beutner is working on a plan to restructure the school system by creating 32 networks of schools, which would be overseen by regional headquarters, according to a Los Angeles Times story. The resources of the district’s central office would be slashed.

Some 30,000 teachers may go on strike in the next few days even as Beutner’s administration is working to find ways to keep classrooms open in the nation’s second-largest school system. The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to ease the process for vetting adult volunteers in schools, while hundreds of substitutes have been hired and scores of administration employees have been assigned to work at schools in the event of a strike.

United Teachers Los Angeles has demanded a 6.5 percent pay raise; more money for schools; a boost in the number of counselors, nurses, social workers and librarians; a reduction in standardized testing; and an expansion of community schools.

The union has accused the school system of claiming to have fewer resources than it really has, but Beutner’s administration warns that the district could be insolvent in a few years.

The school system administration says that teachers are ignoring the serious financial troubles Los Angeles schools face and that the system can’t afford their demands. It has accused the union of bargaining for a contract in bad faith and refusing to listen to legitimate counterproposals.

Below is an open letter from 15 current and former Los Angeles Unified School District teachers of the year, with their names at the end, explaining why the teachers may have to strike. (In Los Angeles, county officials hold an annual contest to name a number of teachers of the year who compete with winners in other districts for the state title. These 15 include seven who advanced to win Los Angeles County Teacher of the year and another four who advanced to California Teacher of the Year. One was California’s National Teacher of the Year finalist)

The letter was written before the school board Tuesday directed the Los Angeles superintendent to come up with a three-year plan to bring more money into the school system.

Here is the letter:

We are current and former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Teachers of the Year, proud members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and we are prepared to strike on January 10, if necessary.

As Teachers of the Year, we were selected to serve as ambassadors because we are considered models of what good teaching looks like and what good teachers do. On January 10, tens of thousands of good teachers in the second largest school district in the USA will go on strike, and we will be among them. We want people to understand that what we are fighting for is much bigger than a paycheck. We’re fighting for our students, their families, and the importance of public education in Los Angeles.

For almost two years, UTLA has been negotiating with LAUSD on a new contract. Our demands have consistently been about far more than an increase in salary. We are demanding lower class sizes for our students, less testing and more teaching, charter school accountability, a full-time nurse and librarian in every school along with more counselors, psychologists, and social workers, and we want LAUSD to support the Community Schools Model, which has been proven to work all over the USA.

In 20-plus months of negotiating, LAUSD has not made meaningful counter-offers or proposals regarding these demands.

LAUSD Superintendent Beutner stated recently, about our plan to strike, that “[his] concern first and foremost is the safety and well being of our students.” If that is true, then LAUSD should meet our demands because they are centered around our students’ safety and well-being, which has been compromised for far too long under the status quo in LAUSD.

● Class sizes from the high twenties to thirties in elementary, and from the high-thirties to mid-forties in middle and high school makes it next to impossible for teachers to give our kids the individual attention they deserve; it does nothing to promote safety and well-being for our students.

● Schools without a full-time nurse, librarian, or adequate social-emotional support services do not promote safety and well being for our students.

● Over-testing does not promote well being for our students; it is instead, as Diane Ravitch points out, part of the reform movement which has done “immeasurable damage to students, teachers, and public education.”

● Career Technical Education teachers forced to work without a conference period does not promote well being for our students.

● Unregulated charter school growth, without requiring reasonable accountability and guidelines for charter school co-locations, takes resources away from our students; it is detrimental to their well-being.

Our demands would address all of these issues and more. As Teachers of the Year, LAUSD regards us as examples of some of the best educators that our district has to offer and as professionals dedicated to our students’ success and well being. We are proud to represent the countless teachers who exemplify great teaching every single day in their classrooms. Even more importantly, we are proud to stand with our colleagues in this fight. We ask that LAUSD, the school board, and the public listen to the voices of teachers who voted with an overwhelming 98 percent majority to authorize our union to call a strike over these demands if they were not met.

LAUSD says that it cannot afford to meet our demands because they would bankrupt the district. They say this even as the fact-finding panel revealed that their budget reserve now stands at $1.9 billion. Why is our district hoarding $1.9 billion that could be spent on our students to improve their safety and well-being?

Superintendent Beutner has stated that he wants to appeal to the California legislature for more funds. Why hasn’t this happened already? Both Gov. Newsom and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond have already stated they would support increased education funding. And according to former Gov. Brown, California has $14 billion in a reserve “rainy day” fund, and an additional $15 billion surplus for this year. Why hasn’t LAUSD signed on as an official supporter of the Schools and Communities First Act, which would restore $5 billion annually to public schools? Most importantly, why hasn’t LAUSD offered to use its giant reserve to meet our demands in the short term and unite with us in an organized effort to appeal to the legislature for more money going forward? 

Why doesn’t our district want to partner with teachers to make this just and righteous appeal for public education for the safety and well-being of our students?

California is the richest state in the nation and the fifth-largest economy in the world yet we consistently land in the bottom 10 states in terms of education funding and class size. We can do better. Our students deserve better. 

LAUSD’s “financial crisis” is a problem that the newly elected leaders coming into Sacramento have already stated that they want to solve, and one that the state has money to solve, yet we cannot get the district to agree to remove contract language which allows them to unilaterally exceed class size maximums — even though all the majority of the fact-finding panel agreed that they should. And last week, instead of meeting our demands, which would have improved conditions for students with special needs, LAUSD tried to file a federal injunction to prevent teachers of those students from striking (the court threw it out one day after it was filed). Why are teachers standing alone, as the first and last line of defense for our students’ well being? Why isn’t LAUSD standing with us?

If we truly put student needs at the center and leave adult agendas behind, it seems clear that our demands are completely reasonable. In truth they would just be the beginning of a plan to revitalize public education in Los Angeles. When a recent Wall Street Journal report reveals that teachers are leaving the profession at the highest rate on record because “[our] students [aren’t] valued and that the public education system in our country isn’t a priority in so many places,” it’s clear that the time for change is now.

This is what we are fighting for.

We are LAUSD Teachers of the Year, proud members of UTLA, and we are prepared to strike on January 10 for the schools LA students deserve.

Leslie Anderson

National Board Certified Teacher

Diane S. Leichman Career Preparatory and Transition Center

2018 LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Ari Anne Campbell, MA

National  Board Certified Teacher

West  Side Global Awareness Magnet

2018  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Flor Cuevas

Graham  Elementary

2018  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Daniel Jocz, M.Ed.

National  Board Certified Teacher

Sherman  Oaks Center for Enriched Studies

2015  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Susan Kacvinsky, MA

LAUSD/USC  Media Arts and Engineering Magnet

2018  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Isela Lieber, M.Ed.

National  Board Certified Teacher

James  Monroe High School

2016  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Sean Longstreet, MA

National  Board Certified Teacher

West  Side Global Awareness Magnet

2018  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Wendy Lozano, MA

Canoga  Park Elementary

2018  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Lovelyn  Marquez-Prueher, M.Ed.

National  Board Certified Teacher

Dodson  Middle School

2014  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Hector Perez-Roman, M.Ed.

National  Board Certified Teacher

Arleta  High School

2014  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Joyann Sofio, MA

National  Board Certified Teacher

Walter  Reed Middle School

2018  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Veronica Vega, M.Ed

National Board Certified Teacher

Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy

2012 LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Joseph Zeccola, MFA

National Board Certified Teacher

Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies

2018 LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Jennifer Trochez, M.Ed.

National  Board Certified Teacher

Gates  Street Elementary School

2018  LAUSD Teacher of the Year

Matthew Waynee, MA

LAUSD/USC Media Arts and Engineering Magnet

2016 LAUSD Teacher of the Year