L.A. teachers approve local-control deal

(Originally published on December 15th by the LA Times)

Teachers in Los Angeles have overwhelmingly approved an agreement that is expected to give instructors and administrators more control of their schools, while also holding them responsible for academic achievement.

The vote was 69.8% in favor and 29.4% against, with the remainder failing to specify a choice on their ballots. In all, 19,529 members, or 55%, cast ballots out of 35,593 eligible voters. Members of United Teachers Los Angeles had submitted ballots over the past several days, with the results tabulated and announced Thursday.

The Board of Education is expected to quickly follow suit in ratifying the deal. The pact would end the much-publicized “Public School Choice” initiative, under which groups inside and outside the district, including charter schools, competed for control of new and low performing campuses. The growth of independently managed charter schools had resulted in the reduction of more than 200 positions formerly held by district-employed, unionized teachers.

“I am hopeful,” said teachers union President Warren Fletcher. “Now we move forward. It’s good to see that we have been able to, at least to some degree, reverse the direction, and slow down the process of removing teaching positions from the district.”

“The devil is going to be in the details on the school empowerment side,” he said. “On the stabilization side, this is an unmitigated positive.”Fletcher commented at Virgil Middle School in Koreatown, just after a rally of teachers, parents and students against ongoing and proposed budget cuts, driven mostly by revenue shortfalls at the state level.

“Money for jobs and educations,” participants chanted. “Tax the rich and corporations.”

Despite sharp program cuts, academic performance has risen strongly at Virgil, although the school also has suffered a dismantling of its well-regarded music program.

In the balloting, UTLA members also approved a three-year extension of their health benefits package, with 95.2% voting yes.

School board member Tamar Galatzan has criticized that deal as unaffordable, saying it would inevitably lead to layoffs. L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, however, said the cost of benefits was manageable, in part because the district already has laid off thousands and thus is providing benefits for a much smaller workforce.

— Howard Blume

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