In Partnership with 74

Commentary: Do I strike? A teacher wants to make informed decisions

Karina Gensicke | January 2, 2019

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I listened in angst to hear what my union’s response would be to the fact-finding panel’s report as it relates to the contract negotiations between LAUSD and UTLA. When I heard that we were moving to strike, I felt like a child caught between two parents in a bitter divorce.

I have taught with LAUSD for 13 years and have always made it a point to put my students first. Because I wanted to become the best advocate I could for them, I adopted a holistic approach to their education. This meant learning more about educational budgets and how money is allocated by the state.

As a participating union member, in August I voted to strike. But as my district and union have gone to the bargaining table during the past few months, I hoped that they would reach a resolution to benefit all. I wanted to believe that both sides would be willing to concede on proposals that proved unreasonable, be it because of cost or constraints.

As the strike looms, many questions remain unanswered for me. I hope that these are the same questions many of my fellow teachers are asking because what happens next will impact thousands of teachers like me and hundreds of thousands of students in Los Angeles.

Can the extra money in the LAUSD budget help us get a step closer to a solution?

At the Dec. 11 school board meeting, the LAUSD chief financial officer provided a breakdown of the contentious $1.9 billion balance, including the funds already allocated for specific purposes and the money that is left for our use. This analysis includes the cost of a 6 percent raise for teachers and leaves $680 million, if not less, due to reserves. Is there more that can be done with this money or is it truly fiscally unsound to spend the remaining reserves?

Why don’t we use the report’s findings to move us forward?

The fact-finding report suggested that a 6 percent pay raise is a fair offer based on our economic climate and should be agreed on in conjunction with allocating funds towards class size reduction, librarians, nurses and other professional staff which will incur costs. The report also found that we may have to make adjustments to retiree health benefits decisions in order to free up money for future salaries. Why can’t we build on these findings to move towards an agreement?

What is the district’s final offer?

As an LAUSD teacher and union member, I want to have a clear understanding of what the final LAUSD offer, especially in the context of the fact-finding report. Without this, teachers can’t share how they feel about it with their union representatives so that whatever decisions are made daily are based on the most recent conversations with the members.

The district is now offering a set 6 percent salary raise with no contingencies and back pay to 2017, $30 million from the moneys available to reduce class size and hire additional counselors, librarians and nurses, and the option to form a working group for LAUSD and UTLA to agree on replacement language in the contract which deals with class size. Is this not a shift from the offer that we voted to strike on in August?

Based on this offer by the district, will I get to vote to strike?

UTLA has moved to strike on Jan. 10 if the district does not make dramatic shifts in its bargaining. Are we taking the movement by the district into consideration as we move forward, or are we only working off of the information LAUSD teachers had four months ago? Would my vote to strike that occurred back in August still be a vote to strike or will we be able to consider the latest offer?

Asking these fundamental questions is crucial for me because a strike will cause significant damage to my students’ education. Their loss of instructional time with their classroom teacher cannot be regained. I do not want to walk out on them if we may be insisting on a conglomerate of outcomes that are not fiscally feasible. I do not want to walk out on my students if bargaining has not been made transparent. I do not want to walk out on them if our individual voices have become absent at the bargaining table or advice of impartial counsel is being disregarded.

I had hoped for more clarity by now. I think we must continue asking questions and looking for the answers before making a final decision to walk the picket line. Let’s request a voice in crucial decisions that are being made, and learn more about how schools are funded. We may yet find that our biggest fight will be in getting our union and district allied and ready to visit Sacramento, so that our legislators help to provide more funding that all of our students deserve.

Karina Gensicke teaches kindergarten at Franklin Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles.  She is a 2018-19 Teach Plus California Policy Fellow.  

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