LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A week-old strike by more than 30,000 Los Angeles teachers that has disrupted classes for nearly half a million students neared an end Tuesday after the teachers’ union and the second-largest U.S. school district reached a tentative contract agreement.
After five days of talks that ended around dawn on Tuesday, leaders on both sides said negotiations had addressed many of the teachers’ demands. The deal includes a plan to reduce class sizes, to hire additional support staff and a 6 percent pay raise. The union had sought a 6.5 percent raise.
“I’m proud to announce, pending approval, that we have an agreement that will allow teachers to go back to work on their campuses tomorrow,” Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has mediated the talks, said at a news conference. He was joined by Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, and Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Precise terms of the deal will be disclosed later once they have been presented to union members ahead of a ratification vote, which union leaders said could be completed within hours.
Officials said the negotiations resulted in two back-to-back contracts. The first, which expires in June, will include the salary raise. Other provisions will be contained in a second, three-year contract, to follow.
Teachers walked off the job on Jan. 14 in Los Angeles first such strike in three decades, demanding higher pay, smaller class sizes in the district’s roughly 1,200 schools and the hiring of more support staff, such as librarians, nurses and counselors.
“So many schools have gone without for so long, and now they’ll have these crucial services,” Caputo-Pearl said at the news conference.
The union also sought restrictions on the steady expansion of independently managed charter schools, arguing they divert resources from traditional classroom instruction for the bulk of the district’s students.
The leadership of the school district – an independent body that does not answer to the Los Angeles mayor – had said throughout the talks that they largely supported the union’s goals but that they did not have enough of a budget to cover the demands.
Education funding in California is based on daily attendance. By Friday, the strike had already cost the district about $125 million and collectively cost students more than 1.5 million days of instruction, according to Beutner.
Beutner noted that New York City spends about $20,000 per public school student per year compared with $16,000 in California.
“That’s an opportunity gap,” Beutner said.
Union supporters, and even school district officials, have credited the striking teachers with helping reawaken the public, the media and politicians around the country to widespread difficulties facing schools in California and elsewhere.
Teachers in Oakland, California, were also expected to vote on whether to strike later this week.
Teachers staged walkouts over salaries and school funding in several U.S. states last year, including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. The Los Angeles stoppage differs in that educators face a predominantly Democratic political establishment more sympathetic to their cause.
Labor tensions are still simmering in other big-city school districts. The teachers’ union in Denver held a strike authorization vote on Saturday after rejecting a contract offer. Results will be announced on Tuesday.
Reporting by Steve Gorman, additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas