United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union President Alex Caputo-Pearl (R) speaks to striking teachers and their supporters outside John Marshall High School in Los Angeles on the first day of the teachers' strike, on January 14, 2019. Teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest public school district in the nation, are striking for smaller class size, better school funding and higher teacher pay. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
The head of the Los Angeles teachers union hinted at contract talks resuming Wednesday as striking educators in the nation's second-largest school district protested outside hundreds of schools for a third day.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the union had "engaged" L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to help in the dispute over pay, class sizes and support staff levels that led to the first strike in 30 years and prompted the school district to staff classrooms with substitute teachers.
Caputo-Pearl provided no further details. The mayor lacks authority over Los Angeles Unified School District but has been involved in seeking a resolution.
"We'll have more information for you later in the day about the bargaining table and when we're getting back to that bargaining table," Caputo-Pearl told teachers rallying in the rain outside a high school.
Parents and children — one holding a sign that said "This wouldn't happen at Hogwarts" — joined the picket lines. Rock musician and actor Steven Van Zandt, an advocate for arts education, also marched. He said teachers were on the front lines "fighting the war against ignorance."
Teachers with the independent Accelerated Schools charter network — who are also union members but negotiated contracts separately from LAUSD — walked off the job Tuesday to demand better working conditions and to support public school educators.
District officials are urging the union to resume negotiations. They have said the union's demands could bankrupt the school system, which had 640,000 students.
"We need our educators back in our classrooms helping inspire our students," Superintendent Austin Beutner said Tuesday.
All 1,240 K-12 schools in the district are open, a departure from many strikes in other states. Administrators have hired hundreds of substitutes to replace tens of thousands of teachers.
The first day of the walkout Monday saw attendance plunge to about 144,000 students. That number grew to 159,000 on Tuesday. Students who missed classes during the strike will be marked absent, but each school's principal will decide whether those students would face consequences, the district said.
Some parents, who sent their kids to school, wondered how much teaching was happening as students were being gathered into large groups.
David Biener, a parent in the district, said his son and daughter completed worksheets in math and history, while sitting on the gym floor at their middle school.
"It's not an ideal situation, obviously, but there was some learning going on," he said Tuesday. "It wasn't a free-for-all."
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.
Caputo-Pearl, the union president, said members are "prepared to go as long as it takes" to get a fair contract. The last strike in 1989 lasted nine days.
Beutner, the superintendent, urged the teachers to join him in pushing for more funding from the state, which provides 90 percent of the district's money.
LAUSD said 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 painful truth is we just don't have enough money," Beutner said.
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 their education level and experience.