Tentative deal reached in LA teachers strike includes pay hike, smaller classroom sizes

A tentative agreement was reached Tuesday in the first teachers strike in Los Angeles in 30 years, allowing educators to start returning to the classroom on Wednesday.

More than 30,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike Jan. 14 in a school system that serves about 640,000 students. Among the teacher demands were higher pay, smaller classroom sizes and more support staff in schools, including additional nurses, librarians and counselors.

The LA strike followed teacher walkouts in at least five other states in the past year as unions decry smaller classroom budgets and meager pay. The LA school district is the second-largest in the nation, behind New York.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters Tuesday the tentative deal came after “a 21-hour marathon session that wrapped up just before sunrise this morning.” The announcement came on day six of the strike.

“Everyone on every side has worked tirelessly to make this happen,” said Garcetti, who is known to have presidential ambitions. The Democrat’s role as a moderator in resolving the contentious dispute was seen as a test of his deal-making skills.

The mayor said the agreement requires the approval of the teachers and LA Unified’s Board of Education.

Teachers have been seeking a 6.5 percent pay hike. The union, United Teachers Los Angeles, earlier rejected as “woefully inadequate” a proposal from the district that included the hiring of 1,200 teachers and a 6 percent pay raise for the first two years of a three-year contract.

Although the tentative deal still includes a 6 percent raise for educators, it also makes strides in reducing classroom size, which was seen as one of the key sticking points in the negotiations.

Union officials have insisted all along that the strike was about more than pay. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Tuesday that the new proposal represents “a real path to address class size.”

The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed at Tuesday’s press conference, but the classroom sizes are expected to be reduced over the next four years under the proposal.

“The strike nobody wanted is now behind us,” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner told reporters. He called the proposal “a new chapter in public education” and said the district would “welcome back with open arms and warm hearts our educators.”

“I’m delighted we’ve reached an agreement with UTLA that provides teachers with a well-deserved salary increase, that will reduce class size, and add more support to our students and educators in schools including librarians, nurses and counselors,” Beutner added.

Schools in the district have stayed open despite the strike, staffed by volunteers, administrators and hundreds of newly hired substitute teachers.

However, the strike cost the district more than $125 million in total gross revenue last week, based on lower student attendance numbers, according to LAUSD. The state allocates $68 per student to the district for each day they attend. More than two-thirds of the students didn’t show up for classes in the first week of the strike.

The district is projecting a half-billion-dollar deficit this budget year and has billions obligated for pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers. There are nearly 1,150 schools in the district, including more than 200 independently operated public charter schools.

“I am glad that LAUSD and UTLA have come to an agreement, and I want to thank the thousands of dedicated teachers, parents and students who were powerfully demonstrating their passion for our public schools over the last 9 days,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a release. “I look forward to working with the Legislature to provide flexibility for schools to hire more counselors and nurses and to better support our neediest kids, including those in special education.”

Prior to the strike, Newsom proposed increased education funding in the state, including about $6 billion in state funds to help school districts pay down pension debt and more investment in special education and early education. Also, Newsom indicated that his budget plan unveiled Jan. 10 includes $140 million in new funding for LAUSD.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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