As a teachers strike looms, KCRW talks to the two men at the center of the conflict

After months of a stalemate in negotiations and the recent failure of mediation talks, a strike by Los Angeles Unified School District teachers looks increasingly likely.

If instructors in America’s second largest school system do strike, it will be the first walkout since 1989 and have enormous consequences for the LAUSD’s 480,000 students. In preparation for a possible strike, the LAUSD has sent pamphlets to families warning them of a possible walkout and measures they should start thinking about now.

There are a host of issues that separate the positions of the L.A. Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents 30,000 instructors in the school system. They range from disagreements over salary raises to the union’s demand for a greater voice in decisions involving testing and the placement of charter schools.

The two men at the center of this labor dispute are LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Beutner, a former investment banker and philanthropist, who started his job in May, says LAUSD is in terrible financial shape, with a $500 million operating deficit. Beutner says if the teachers received everything that they want it will bankrupt the district and lead to mass layoffs.

Caputo-Pearl, a former teacher, argues that LAUSD is sitting on big financial reserves and the school district should be spending more, not less, on salaries and new hiring. Caputo-Pearl also rejects outside analysis that appears to back Beutner’s arguments.

As tensions increase between L.A. Unified and the UTLA, KCRW talked to Caputo-Pearl and Beutner.

Listen to the interviews

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

United Teachers Los Angeles Alex Caputo-Pearl in the UTLA’s offices on Wilshire Boulevard. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

WHAT THE TEACHERS UNION WANTS

*A 6.5% pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2016

*District-wide reduction in class sizes

*More hiring of special education teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses

*A bigger voice in the placement of charter schools and the frequency of testing

WHAT THE LAUSD IS OFFERING

*A 3% salary increase retroactive to last year

*A 3% additional salary increase in the future of LAUSD finances remain stable

*Add teachers and reduce class size at 15 middle schools and 75 elementary schools

*Additional pay for teachers who take professional development classes in science, engineering, arts and math, as well as dual language instruction.

In the wake of failed mediation talks, the LAUSD and UTLA are moving to required phase called fact-finding. They’re supposed to meet with a neutral arbiter who will weigh the arguments of each side and make a kind of ruling as to who is right and who is wrong. Although the arbiter’s decision is non-binding, a strike can’t be called before fact-finding is completed.