L.A. teachers union demands withdrawal of extra school days in first clash under Carvalho

·5 min read
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 26: Portrait of the United Teachers Los Angeles Presidentat Cecily Myart-Cruz on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. She is wearong a wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz says L.A. Unified was required to bargain with her union before adding four optional school days to this year's calendar. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

In its first conflict under Los Angeles schools chief Alberto Carvalho, the teachers union has filed a complaint alleging that the district acted illegally in adding four additional days to the upcoming school year and is demanding that the optional days be rescinded.

The extended school year has emerged as a centerpiece for academic recovery and the pushback from the union represents a significant public dispute between the new administration and the union. Carvalho became superintendent in February.

The extra school days are optional both for teachers and students and are scheduled at what district officials called "critical" points in the school year — at the 10-week semester mark and before final grades are due, for example. Classes will not meet in the regular format during these days. Schools will tally students and teachers who either want to attend or take the day off. Administrators will then develop a plan to make the best use of the added instructional time.

Even though the extra days are optional, the district was required under state law to go to the bargaining table before approving them but failed to do so, the union asserts in the complaint.

"Educators are the ones in the classroom day to day, not Supt. Carvalho, yet they are being left out of conversations on how to most effectively invest in student learning," Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a statement Tuesday announcing the filing. "Instead, the district has chosen to make hasty decisions that will have more negative consequences for both educators and students."

The district defended the process under which the extra days were approved.

“Los Angeles Unified has, and continues to, meet with UTLA to discuss work and academic calendars," the district said in a statement. The extra work time comprises "purely optional days which afford teachers the opportunity to work with small groups of students who may need additional instruction. Additional pay will be offered to teachers choosing to participate. The district looks forward to further discussions with UTLA on this and other topics as we work together for the school communities we serve.”

Educators and lawmakers who have approved billions of dollars in funding for pandemic academic recovery have touted an extended school year as one way to help among others, including tutoring, smaller class sizes, after-school programs and summer school.

A five-year study in New Mexico of an extended school year yielded mixed results for the seven participating school systems. In the study, 25 days were added to the beginning of the school year for kindergarten through third-grade students. Kindergartners benefited the most, as did students who worked with the same teacher both during the extra time and during the regular school year. The measurable benefits appeared to diminish somewhat over time. But significant numbers of students showed no benefit.

A recent review of 100 large and urban districts indicated that 44 referenced an extended learning year strategy in the 2021-22 school year.

"LAUSD's attempt to get more time with students makes sense, especially given their recent news that 20,000 students are missing and 70% of their homeless students were chronically absent last year," said Bree Dusseault, managing director at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization based at Arizona State University that conducted the review of school districts. "For sure, teachers should be supported and compensated in this effort — that's equally critical. But getting students more access to instruction and adults who care about them is an understandable and reasonable priority."

The Board of Education approved the extended school year in April. District officials had originally sought more additional days than they eventually settled on.

The board's action included the addition of three optional paid training days for teachers. These, too, were improperly imposed, the union contends.

The union asserts that the money set aside for the longer school year, estimated at $122 million, would have been "better spent on programs proven to positively impact student learning." Superior strategies would have included "establishing smaller class sizes, hiring more counselors, psychiatric social workers and school psychologists and investing in teacher development," the union's statement said.

The school system has budgeted for additional counselors and mental health workers, but cannot find enough qualified people to fill the positions. Other school systems report similar problems.

During his first back-to-school address, Carvalho said Monday that all employees deserve higher compensation, but did not go into specifics.

Looming in the background is another major issue — bargaining over the next full union contract. Members of United Teachers Los Angeles have been working under an expired contract since July 1. The union — which represents teachers, counselors and nurses — is calling for a 10% raise for each of the next two school years, starting this fall. The previous contract settlement was not reached until after a contentious teachers strike in January 2019.

District officials have said they wanted to negotiate over a new and full labor agreement with teachers over the summer, but the union negotiating team was not available during that period. The district has committed — to all employee unions — that it would maintain the current level of health benefits.

The filing of the complaint would not prevent the nation's second-largest school system from carrying out its schedule as intended — pending an adverse future ruling.

The complaint, called an unfair practice charge, was filed Friday with the California Public Employment Relations Board, which would investigate the allegations. The union wants the labor board to advise — and, if necessary, compel — L.A. Unified to "immediately" withdraw the four school days and three professional development days and "return to the status quo." After that, the union said, the district could begin to "bargain in good faith over the amount and distribution of employee work days (voluntary and mandatory) and other consequential terms and conditions of employment."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.