LOS ANGELES (AP) — Teachers and officials in the nation’s second-largest school district return to the bargaining table on Thursday, hoping to end a strike that has been costly and divisive.
The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that talks would resume at noon at City Hall, with the office “facilitating” negotiations. The announcement didn’t indicate whether any new contract offers would be on the table.
Meanwhile, the teachers’ union planned to continue its picketing for a fourth day.
Both sides had portrayed themselves as ready and willing to meet again for the first time since talks broke off last week, sending tens of thousands of teachers onto the street.
On Wednesday, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the union had engaged Garcetti to help in the dispute, although he lacks authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I remain available 24/7, anywhere, any time. Whatever it takes, we’ll do it,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said on the district’s Twitter account.
Clashes over pay, class sizes and support-staff levels led to the first strike in 30 years and prompted the district to staff classrooms with substitute teachers and administrators. District officials have said teacher demands could bankrupt the school system with 640,000 students.
Parents and children have joined the protests despite heavy rain that drenched the city all week.
The first day of the walkout Monday saw attendance plunge to about 144,000 students. That number grew to 159,000 on Tuesday, then fell to 132,000 on Wednesday.
Because state funding is dependent on attendance, the student absences cost the district about $69 million over three days, the district said. At the same time, it doesn’t have to spend about $10 million a day on teacher pay.
However, all 1,240 K-12 schools in the district were open — a departure from successful strikes in other states that emboldened the LA union to act.
Students who miss classes during the strike will be marked absent, but each school’s principal will decide whether they face consequences, the district said.
Some parents who sent their kids to school wondered how much learning was happening as students were gathered into large groups to be supervised by fewer adults.
The union rejected the district’s latest offer to hire nearly 1,200 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians and reduce class sizes by two students. It also included a previously proposed 6-percent raise over the first two years of a three-year contract. The union wants a 6.5 percent hike at the start of a two-year contract.
Beutner has urged the teachers to join him in pushing for more funding from the state, which provides 90 percent of the district’s money.
LA Unified says teachers’ demands run up against an expected half-billion-dollar deficit this budget year and billions obligated for pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers.
The union argues that the district is hoarding reserves of $1.8 billion. It represents more than 30,000 teachers who earn between $44,000 and $86,000 a year, depending on education and experience.