Analysis: L.A. Teachers Cite Class Size as a Key Reason for Striking, but Their Union Has Agreed With That Part of Their Contract for at Least 18 Years
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If you have been paying any attention at all to the issues that have led to the Los Angeles teacher strike, you have heard United Teachers Los Angeles demand the elimination of a provision in the contract that allows L.A. Unified to waive class size restrictions.
The collective bargaining agreement contains a table with maximum class sizes, but Article XVIII, Section 1.5 states, “It is recognized that the class size restrictions of this Article may not be achieved due to circumstances such as state funding limitations, changes in the student integration or other programs, or statutory changes.”
Calling Section 1.5 “at the core of our struggle,” UTLA Secondary Vice President Daniel Barnhart wrote, “It’s not hyperbole to say that the future of public education in Los Angeles may depend on whether we get rid of that sentence in our contract.”
That is, without doubt, hyperbole.
Section 1.5 is not something L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner created, nor is it something that was only recently added to the teacher contract. That sentence has remained virtually intact since at least the 2001-03 collective bargaining agreement, signed off by the last five UTLA presidents, including the current one, Alex Caputo-Pearl.
The 2001-03 contract reads, “It is recognized that the class size restrictions of this Article may not be achieved due to circumstances such as state funding limitations, teacher shortages, changes in the student integration or other programs, or statutory changes.”
The latest iteration of the contract eliminated “teacher shortages” from the reasons the class size limits could be waived, suggesting neither side considered it a non-negotiable item.
The 2008-11 contract contained a special provision to address the class size issue, including the creation of a joint class size task force with an equal number of representatives from the district and UTLA.
By the 2014-17 contract, that one sentence in Section 1.5 had a few companions:
“It is recognized that the class size restrictions of this Article may not be achieved due to circumstances such as state funding limitations, changes in the student integration or other programs, or statutory changes. Prior to implementing any variation from the class size restrictions of this Article, the District shall provide UTLA with a written notice of intent, including a written rationale and a summary of applicable facts. Upon request of either party, the District and UTLA shall meet and discuss the intended variation from the class size restrictions prior to implementation. Neither the District’s budget development process and/or the issuance of layoff notices shall be deemed ‘implementation.’ Alleged violations of any terms of this section are subject to the grievance procedures of Article V.”
In fact, L.A. Unified and UTLA did meet in August 2017 to discuss “the intended variation from the class size restrictions.” The meeting produced a memorandum of understanding in which “the two sides agreed” the computed class size variations were in accordance with Section 1.5. That MOU was signed by Alex Caputo-Pearl.
L.A. Unified’s current bargaining position is that it is willing to eliminate Section 1.5, but it wants something to replace it. The independent fact-finder suggested that a new MOU could get the two sides back to the original class size limits “within a couple of years.”
When districts try to remove something from a contract that has been previously bargained, unions slam them for it, calling such attempts “takebacks.” As things now stand, it is UTLA demanding a takeback, which the district is unwilling to surrender in its entirety. The solution, as always, is bargaining. It will happen in this case, too, but only after UTLA gets its parade.
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