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After Tentative Deal, Teachers Return To Los Angeles Classrooms

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The big news here around Los Angeles this morning - tens of thousands of public school teachers from the LA Unified School District, the nation's second-biggest, are heading back to the classroom. A six-day strike ended last night after a deal between the union and school officials was ratified. This deal includes a pay hike for teachers, also a commitment to reduce class size, and it will bring in more school nurses. This is elementary school teacher Jennifer Liebe-Zelazny.

JENNIFER LIEBE-ZELAZNY: I am actually pretty excited about our new, tentative agreement. Nobody got everything, but everybody got something.

GREENE: And then this is teacher Jesenia Chavez. She said that she felt that the community had really rallied around the teachers.

JESENIA CHAVEZ: We reached a place where people respect us and people care about us. And it's really - I feel like a rock star, like, with my red T-shirt. And I feel like I'm appreciated and valued by my city. And I completely want to say thank you 100 percent to everyone who supported us.

GREENE: All right. Kyle Stokes covers education for member station KPCC, and he's with me in our studios at NPR West. Good morning, Kyle.

KYLE STOKES, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: All right. So the strike you've been covering for, like, almost a week now is over.

STOKES: Yes.

GREENE: Tell us what's in this deal that brought the two sides together.

STOKES: Well, so, first of all, the teachers are going to get a raise. They had been - the district had been offering a 6 percent raise for months, and the teachers have accepted that. The district also has offered to raise staffing levels of nurses, counselors and librarians as the union had been looking for for a long time. So, for instance, over the next two or three years, the district is going to roll out enough school nurses to make sure that every Los Angeles Unified School has a school nurse on campus five days week, which isn't the case right now...

GREENE: Because there were some days when there was no nurse at all - right? - at some of those schools.

STOKES: Some days when there's no nurse at all or one or two days a week. But the big breakthrough here, David, is class sizes. Not only has the district agreed to try and hit some very ambitious targets for reducing class sizes in Los Angeles over the next three years, the district also gave up this power that it had under the old contract to essentially raise class sizes almost whenever it wants. Class size reduction is very expensive, and the district felt like it needed flexibility, thus this provision in the old contract, kind of a safety valve that would let them raise class sizes in order to save money. They gave that up. That's a big win for the union.

GREENE: OK. So the teachers got a lot of what they were asking for.

STOKES: A lot of what they were asking for, but it's going to have to be spread out over three years, so that's sort of the compromise there.

GREENE: The school district had been saying they just didn't have the money for some of this stuff. Is there a concern about coming up with that money or what this might do to the school district if they've committed to spending so much?

STOKES: Well, the key here is that the deal has been spread out over 3 1/2 years. So instead of trying to hit this one-year window, which is what had been happening before, the district trying to figure out how to scramble and come up with this money to cover just one year, now they've got three years to try and figure out how to pay for all of this. And there is sort of an understanding that - as the mayor of Los Angeles, who's been sort of facilitating these talks - that the district is going to try and take a leap of faith here, that they're going to try and have to figure out how to pay for all of this over the next three years, try and secure more state funding, maybe more local funding through some sort of property tax increase. We call it a parcel tax here. That - at least the district now, because it's been spread out over 3 1/2 years, they have some time to figure out how to make this work. But there is a question of how they are going to make this work financially.

GREENE: Kyle, a lot of people around the country are paying attention to this strike, and some of the national coverage focuses - focused on the growth of charter schools in LA. How did that impact these negotiations to this strike?

STOKES: Well - so charter schools aren't necessarily central to the dispute on the contract negotiating table, but they are central to the reasons why teachers are striking because charter schools, the competition with charters, is central to a lot of teachers' anxieties. Now, there are some regulations that have been written into the new contract. I would not call them central to the deal here. There also is going to be a school board vote on a resolution that would ask the state to cap the number of charter schools here in Los Angeles. Now, that says that something again can't be part of the contract deal. It needs to be something that state lawmakers do. But it looks like a charter-friendly majority on the school board here in Los Angeles is going to vote on a resolution that would call for that.

GREENE: Kyle Stokes from member station KPCC. Kyle, thanks.

STOKES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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