LAUSD Teachers, Staff to Go on Strike Tuesday, March 21

LOS ANGELES – A possible three-day strike that would force the closure of Los Angeles Unified School District schools will begin Tuesday, March 21 the Service Employees International Union Local 99 announced Wednesday evening at a rally in Grand Park.

The union representing roughly 30,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other workers declared an impasse in talks with the district and announced plans earlier this month to cancel its existing contract.

A new round of negotiations to attempt to avert the three-day strike is set to begin Friday with Superintendent Alberto Carvalho saying the district is prepared to improve its offer.

District officials said last week that Carvalho had made the Service Employees International Union Local 99 “one of the strongest offers ever proposed by a Los Angeles Unified superintendent.”

United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents the district’s teachers and others, totaling another roughly 30,000 workers, said its members would honor picket lines if SEIU called a strike.

SEIU-represented workers voted in February to authorize the union to call a strike if negotiations failed.

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said schools will temporarily close and warned parents to start talking now with their employers and child care providers.

“We would simply have no way of ensuring a safe and secure environment where teaching can take place,” Carvalho said. “We will give you as much advance notice as possible, but we encourage you to begin discussions with your employer, child care providers and others now.”

On Wednesday, thousands of LAUSD union workers gathered at downtown’s Grand Park for a rally, during which the Tuesday strike date was announced.

In the wake of the news announced at Wednesday’s rally, Carvalho said in a statement that, “SEIU is simply refusing to negotiate. With a historic offer on the table that was created in direct response to SEIU’s demands, and with additional resources still to be negotiated, it is deeply surprising and disappointing that there is an unwillingness to do so.

SEIU officials are asking for a 30% wage increase across the board, while UTLA has been pushing for a 20% raise. The unions have pointed to the district’s projected $4.9 billion reserve fund for 2022-23, while also citing rising inflation and housing costs.

“Workers are fed-up with living on poverty wages — and having their jobs threatened for demanding equitable pay. Workers are fed-up with the short staffing at LAUSD — and being harassed for speaking up,” Max Arais, SEIU Local 99 executive director, said in a statement last week. “We demand that LAUSD stop the unlawful activity, or workers are ready to take stronger action to protest these unfair practices. Canceling our contract is not a decision we make lightly. But it’s clear that LAUSD does not respect or value the work of essential workers in our schools.”

Union officials have said the affected workers earn an average salary of $25,000 a year and have been working without a contract since June 2020.

The union declared an impasse in negotiations in December, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.

In addition to salary demands, union officials have also alleged staffing shortages caused by an “over-reliance on a low-wage, part-time workforce.” The union alleged shortages including:

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School District Audit Deals Another Blow to Stockton’s Civic Reputation

Stockton has long had a reputation for crime, poverty and civic malfeasance and suffered another blow last week when a searing audit of the city’s school district was unveiled.

Auditors portrayed a system consumed with internal discord that ignored basic rules of financial management and squandered millions of dollars on questionable no-bid contracts – money that should have been used to improve the education of 34,000 overwhelmingly poor students.

The audit was conducted by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), an agency that monitors the financial health of California’s public school systems and helps stabilize those in trouble. It found dozens of instances in which money was paid to outside contractors without competitive bidding and/or in violation of the district’s own policies.

The centerpiece of FCMAT’s report was a $6.6 million contract given to a company, Alliance Building Solutions, in 2021 for a system to disinfect the district’s schools through the use of ultraviolet rays. One of the district’s trustees, Scot McBrian, arranged a meeting of district officials with the company at a private party hosted by Stockton’s former mayor, Anthony Silva, and advocated the adoption of its system.

From that initial contact, FCMAT says, the district – without ever determining a need for disinfection – went through several irregular processes, culminating in the contract with IAQ Distribution, an Allied subsidiary that at the time had not registered as a business with the state. Although the company was paid – using federal funds meant to overcome the educational ravages of COVID-19 – only small pieces of the contracted work were ever completed.

FCMAT found similar irregularities in contracts the district awarded to nine different law firms.

“Based on the findings in this report, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that fraud, misappropriation of funds and/or assets, or other illegal fiscal practices may have occurred in the specific areas reviewed,” FCMAT concluded. “Deficiencies and exceptions noted during FCMAT’s review of (Stockton Unified’s) financial records and internal control environment increase the probability of fraud, mismanagement and/or misappropriation of the…assets.

“These findings should be of great concern to the Stockton Unified School District and the San Joaquin County Office of Education and require immediate intervention to limit the risk of fraud, mismanagement and/or misappropriation of assets, or other illegal fiscal practices in the future.”

This, as noted earlier, is not Stockton’s first civic disgrace. In 2012, the city declared bankruptcy after borrowing heavily to build a marina, a basketball and hockey arena and a baseball stadium of dubious utility. The city also took on more debt to make contributions to the pension system for city employees.

Routinely, Stockton is ranked near the top in crime among California cities and several local officials have been caught up in criminal investigations.

Silva, the former mayor who apparently instigated the school system’s disinfection contract by hosting a party at his home to bring school officials and company representatives together, is one of those officials.

Silva, who ran an organization called Stockton Kids Club, was elected mayor in 2012, the same year the city declared bankruptcy. In 2016, he was arrested for providing alcohol to underage boys and recording them playing strip poker. A year later, he was charged with grand theft, embezzlement, profiteering, misappropriation of public funds and money laundering, and in 2019 pleaded guilty to one charge in a plea deal.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

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