The Los Angeles Unified School District was rebuffed by a state employees board in its attempt to prevent a protest by members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), paving the way for a union sponsored demonstration against massive cuts to education on Friday, June 6th.
LAUSD lodged a complaint with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) for an injunction to prevent teachers from using their homeroom hour to stage district-wide protests against planned reductions to the state education budget, which may claim as much as $385 million in cutbacks statewide.
LAUSD educators have agreed to relinquish one hour of pay during the demonstration.
“We are thrilled with the PERB decision,” said A.J. Duffy, president of UTLA, upon learning of the board’s decision on Tuesday, June 2nd. “We hope that the district will now join with us to send this message to Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger and the Legislature that they cannot balance the state budget on the backs of students and their families.”
The action, entitled “One Hour’s Pay for the Kids of LA,” is one in a series of measures that teachers and certificated personnel around the district have engaged in recently in order to draw attention to the billion-dollar deficit that the state is facing.
Tami Bogert, general counsel for the employees board, told The Argonaut that the petition for injunctive relief had been filed late last month. She said that the board would likely make a decision prior to the teachers union’s planned demonstration.
“We have an exceedingly responsive board,” she said.
While Bogert did not go into detail about the reasons why the petition was not granted, the board’s general counsel said that there is a protocol that must be adhered to during these decisions.
“There is a certain standard that is required to be met and the board felt that in this case, that standard was not met,” Bogert explained.
The state employees board is a quasi-judicial administrative agency charged with administering the collective bargaining statutes covering employees of California’s public schools, colleges, and universities, employees of the State of California and employees of the state’s local public agencies.
LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer, in a letter to the district’s teachers last month, said that the union had pledged to work together with his office to fight against the severe cutbacks to education.
“So why is UTLA calling teachers to walk out of their classrooms in protest on June 6th, leaving students unattended and potentially unsafe for an hour during the school day?” Brewer asked. “Unfortunately, this walk-out is illegal, and, by law, regrettably compels the district to oppose this action.”
Duffy disputed Brewer’s view of the situation.
“We are disappointed that instead of being a partner in this fight against these outrageous and disastrous budget cuts, (LAUSD) is being anything but a partner,” he countered.
Duffy said that the union had asked district officials to declare a shortened day on June 6th so that students could enter school an hour later, but they declined to do so.
Regarding student safety, the teachers union president said that UTLA had offered to work with the district with various suggestions, but he was upset at what he feels was an attempt to make teachers solely responsible for student safety.
“They’re making it sound as if teachers are the only ones that can supervise students,” said Duffy. “I think that the district is being very disingenuous about this.”
Gail Levy, who has two daughters at Westchester High, is aware of UTLA’s planned demonstration.
“I would prefer that the children were in class, but I understand that the teachers union has very few tools to make their position known,” she said. “One hour out of class is worth it to make the district and the state take notice of what harm these budget cuts will do.”
Paul Duke, a physical education teacher at University High School who lives in Venice, plans on giving up the first teaching hour to join his colleagues at the demonstration.
“I really believe in the concept of solidarity,” he said.
Fred Page, who teaches mathematics at Westchester High, also plans to be at the demonstration.
“This is extremely important to me and a lot of my colleagues,” said Page. “We are sending a message to Schwarzenegger and our other leaders that we are against these cuts to education.”
The state budget reductions are seen by union representatives and many educators as a setback to improved academic growth and harmful to their members, and they say that they are prepared to fight them by whatever means necessary.
“We have to do this, because the ones who lose in the end are the students,” said Page.
“I feel that (the teachers’) concerns are with the children,” she said.
Educators at Westchester High have the support of their administration, said Page.
“That means a lot to us as teachers, and many of those in administration are former teachers, so they understand,” he said.
Duffy said that while the choice to demonstrate might seem drastic to some, the alternative of standing still while cutbacks are made is much worse.
“Unprecedented threats require unprecedented action. Teachers will do whatever is necessary to help their students,” he asserted. “If we don’t take action now, the effect of the cuts on students and the community could be devastating.”
An unfair practice charge against the union was filed on June 3rd as a result of the petition for injunctive relief, said Bogert.
“When one party seeks an injunction, it is accompanied by a charge,” she said.
Local schools, such as Playa del Rey Elementary School and Westchester High, are planning their protests at 7:50 a.m.
“We are asking parents and students to join us in our picket line on June 6th,” said Cyndi Steele, the president of the elementary school’s booster club.
Calls seeking comment from LAUSD and school board member Marlene Canter, who represents Westchester, were not returned as The Argonaut went to press.