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Smaller Classes, New Community Schools in Tentative Deal to End the LAUSD Teachers' Strike

From the beginning, Caputo-Pearl and the union framed the labor dispute as a fight over the future — even the survival — of traditional public education.

On the first day of the teacher strike, demonstrators marched in downtown Los Angeles for, among other things, more nurses, librarians and counselors, and smaller class sizes.,Roxanne Turpen for NPR

Los Angeles teachers are poised to end their first strike in 30 years after union leaders reached a tentative deal Tuesday with the L.A. Unified School District.

The Board of Education is expected to move quickly to ratify the deal. They convened a morning closed session to review and discuss it. The deal also must be approved by United Teachers Los Angeles through a vote of its members.

Union leaders have said they will not end the strike until their members ratify a contract, but also said they have a system in place that will allow members to vote within a matter of hours. That means teachers are likely to be back at work Wednesday.

Regardless, schools will be open on Tuesday, managed by skeleton staffs of administrators and employees who are not on strike, just as they were last week. More than two-thirds of students did not come to campuses during the first week of the strike.

The final key details of the tentative deal were worked out during an all-night bargaining session that ended at 6:15 a.m.

Less than an hour later, teachers held another rally at a school complex within walking distance of district headquarters.

The union had planned to have members march to district headquarters after a 10:30 a.m. rally at City Hall, but canceled the march after the agreement was reached.

The tentative pact was announced at a 9:30 a.m. news conference at City Hall by L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner, union President Alex Caputo-Pearl and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who mediated the final negotiations with members of his senior staff.

“Today is a day full of good news,” Garcetti said in announcing the agreement, which he said came after a “21-hour marathon that wrapped up just before sunrise.”

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“Everyone on every side has worked tirelessly to make this happen,” the mayor said.

The tentative deal includes what amounts to a 6% raise for teachers — with a 3% raise for the last school year and a 3% raise for this school year. This was the district offer on the table before teachers went on strike, but the walkout was always about more than salary.

The agreement also includes a reduction of class sizes over four years to levels in the previous contract, but removes a contract provision that has allowed the school district to increase class sizes in times of economic hardship, Caputo-Pearl said in an interview. It was not immediately clear how that issue would be dealt with going forward.

But “we have started down a real path to address class size,” Caputo-Pearl said.

Under the agreement, the district agreed to create 30 community schools — a model that has been tried in Cincinnati and Austin, Texas. These schools are supposed to provide social services to students and family, rich academic programs that include the arts and leadership roles for parents and teachers.

The district also agreed to expand to about two dozen the number of schools that will no longer conduct random searches of middle and high school students. That provision was especially important to students who marched in support of their teachers.

Beutner said the agreement marked the beginning of a community conversation.

“Public education is now the topic in every household in our community,” he said. “Let’s capitalize on that. Let’s fix it.”

The actual text of the agreement was not immediately available as the parties worked out final details and signed off. But negotiators wanted to make an announcement in time for school to resume on Wednesday.

From the beginning, Caputo-Pearl and the union framed the labor dispute as a fight over the future — even the survival — of traditional public education. Beutner framed the negotiations as a matter of what the nation’s second-largest school system could afford to do within the limits of its resources.

Whether the union made progress in that battle is open to question, but its leaders will take to their members a deal that they say will improve working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.

In its last offer before the strike, the district proposed class size reductions that fell short of the dramatic changes the union wanted and said it would provide a nurse five days a week in elementary schools and a full-time librarian for all middle and high schools. The district also offered to add an academic counselor at high schools, although the student-to-counselor ratio would remain high.

The union criticized this proposal because the district did not commit to keeping these positions longer than one year.

Caputo-Pearl said there will be a follow-up agreement that will make the full-time nurses permanent. He declined to go into details, but his wording suggested that it could involve funding from outside the school district. L.A. County already has agreed to look for funds to pay for expanded nursing and mental health services for next year. County officials did not initially commit to paying for more than one year.

District officials said the union demands were far more than the nation’s second-largest school system could afford.

The union had put forward a lengthy proposal that touched on a wide range of issues important to its various members, including teachers at all grade levels, and those who teach early education, adult education, bilingual education and children with disabilities.

Though raises will help all members, some items on the union’s original expansive list of demands dropped off the table even before the strike.

The union could have held out longer — and some insiders originally envisioned a longer strike. But public support, which has been strong, might have eroded if the effort dragged on.

Because negotiations took nearly two years, much of the new deal covers a time period that already is past. The agreement, if approved, will expire at the end of June 2020, meaning that it soon will be time to bargain again.