OPINION: LAUSD teachers must put their students first

After a second attempt at strike negotiation son Wednesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers are at an impasse yet again — they have decided to continue discussion on Friday and postpone the strike to Monday.

If the strike occurs, it will undoubtedly have many negative effects for the Los Angeles community, especially with regard to student safety. Not only that, but it may also affect students’ future plans and paths to higher education or vocational school.

Teachers are demanding smaller class sizes, school nurses and higher wages. These goals would be realistic if LAUSD had the funding — but it doesn’t. With its projected $408 million shortfall, declining enrollment and unwillingness to increase taxes, LAUSD would be unable to afford these changes.

A tax hike would effectively  increase funding and meet teachers’ demands, but the area LAUSD serves is primarily low-income — a tax increase may be beyond their means of living. The Los Angeles Times reported that 80 percent of LAUSD students receive free or reduced-price lunches. It would be hard on the community to raise taxes, but without additional federal funding, there is no way for LAUSD to obtain funding and avoid a strike. Because of the sheer lack of money, the teachers’ demands quickly become unfeasible.

Student safety is the most direct consequence from a strike. Many students who attend LAUSD schools are unable to stay at home during a strike — most parents in the area work during the day and will have to send their children to school, despite the insufficient number of teachers to oversee them — let alone educate them. School police will also not be reporting truant students, and, with such a low teacher-to-student ratio, the likelihood of truancy will likely only increase. Students not receiving the usual amount of attention or education might decide to leave school, and the few substitutes would be unable to keep track of attendance.

Furthermore, parents who work as teachers or school staff will be in a double bind. During the strike, they won’t have an  income to support their families. All of the immediate consequences of the strike endanger students and waste precious educational time.

In addition to these short-term effects, some students will have their futures negatively impacted by the lack of teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors at their schools. Jan. 15 is the general application deadline to apply to USC, and many students may miss the opportunity for guidance from counselors and teachers before they submit applications to USC and other higher education institutions. They also will not have counselors and other support staff with whom to plan as they make final decisions for their futures.

While LAUSD has hired roughly 400 substitutes, their plans only cover 8 percent of the number of usual teachers and staff, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is nowhere near enough support for students who are a few months from graduating and for the rest of the 640,000 students enrolled in L.A. public schools, as reported by the LAUSD website.

If the strike endures for a significant portion of the academic year, universities like USC will also be negatively affected. USC’s student body comprises many students from local high schools, all of which will be short-staffed during a strike. According to USC’s profile of the class of 2022, students from Foshay Learning Center, a nearby LAUSD K-12 school, comprise the second highest number of students from a single public high school. Students who aren’t receiving a complete education will struggle to keep up with their peers unaffected by a strike.

There is no room for compromise — the strike will happen and hurt many students’ education, simply because there isn’t enough funding. LAUSD started this academic year with a projected $7.3 billion in revenue, according to their annual budget report, but even this does not seem to be enough. To increase teacher pay, the money must come from an equal opposite action — increasing class size proportionally. To hire school nurses means cutting salaries for already comparatively low paid teachers.

The best teachers can do is to put their students first — for some, that may be continuing to strike, but accepting a smaller negotiation tradeoff or crossing the picket line is not a sign of defeat. Instead, it’s  an acceptance that students and their futures need help right now. The fiscal depletion LAUSD faces cannot be solved with fulfillment of demands in a single day, but only through small steps over time.