R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The Aretha Franklin hit makes a perfect anthem for teachers in Los Angeles, now more than ever. Helping shape the perspectives of future generations and sharing knowledge makes teaching one of the most important professions there is, and yet it remains one of the most underappreciated.
This afternoon, thousands of teachers, students, artists and supporters will take to the streets to fight for public education and demand respect for what they do. Promoted under the hashtag #AllIn4Respect, the protest rally takes place in downtown’s Grand Park at 4 p.m. and will include a full day of multicultural entertainment. Scheduled to appear: Grammy Award–winning musician Martha Gonzalez of Quetzal, singer Marisa Ronstadt and Xochi Flores-Castro of Los Cambalache will perform together, along with The Pacoima Singers (an award-winning, multi-ethnic performing arts group at the Pacoima Middle School Film, Media & Performing Arts Magnet in the San Fernando Valley), the #StudentsDeserve Marching Band, the Rock Band Club of Cortines High School and Korean Drumming Seminar Students from Robert F. Kennedy High School/UCLA Community School.
Speakers will include Rebecca Garelli, a middle-school science teacher who led the walk-ins and successful strike in Arizona; Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA president; Cynthia Matthews and Adrian Tamayo, UTLA Bargaining Team members; Marshe Doss, an 11th grader at Dorsey High School, leader in the Students Deserve coalition, activist in Black Lives Matter and Reclaim Our Schools L.A.; and Eulalia Garcia and Eloisa Galindo, parent organizers who recently fought off a co-location by a charter school.
According to United Teachers Union L.A., after one year of talks, and with a $1.7 billion projected reserve, LAUSD refuses to make progress on key bargaining issues, including fair pay raises, smaller class sizes, more nurses, counselors, psychologists and librarians, less testing and more teaching, charter and co-location regulation, school safety and more.
“In a state whose economy is the fifth largest in the world, we rank 48 out of 50 in teacher-student ratio. LAUSD has some of the largest class sizes in the state,” says UTLA's director of communications, Anna Bakalis. “While the LAUSD School Board recently accepted a 174% salary increase, they refuse to move off of an insulting 2% pay raise for us, as the cost of living has gone up 27% since 2006.”
Bakalis adds that over-testing remains one of the biggest areas of concern for educators and parents. and the district refuses to bargain on this issue. Last year, elementary school students took more than 100 standardized tests. “That’s an unacceptable loss of instructional time, on top of unsustainably large class sizes,” Bakalis says. “This year, one kindergarten class started with 47 students! Could you imagine?”
“Decades of underfunding our schools leaves us 46 out of 50 in per-pupil funding,” she continues. “The ability to collectively bargain a contract for our members presents great opportunity, not just to our members but for our students and communities. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. Rampant privatization efforts have gutted our classrooms. It is time to say enough is enough.”
LAUSD has seen a 287% growth in the number of unregulated charter schools, and with charter supporter Betsy Devos in power, public school advocates fear things will only get worse. Unregulated charter schools are an industry that drains more than $550 million from our public schools each year, according to UTLA.
“The national wave of strikes and protests — from West Virginia to Arizona — is demonstrating that educators have enormous power when we take collective action,” Bakalis asserts. “Since bargaining with LAUSD began last spring, UTLA has had a series of escalating actions, leading up to [this rally] at Grand Park. We have appealed to LAUSD through a series of school-site protests and pickets, school board actions and faculty meeting boycotts. Before a settlement was reached with SEIU 99, we supported them in their plan to go on a one-day strike. Labor solidarity and support is key to our movement. [Today] that wave of teachers uprising across the nation will hit Los Angeles, where more than 10,000 people are expected to rally for respect and to fight to save public education in Los Angeles.”
The event's music headliner, Martha Gonzalez, agrees. “I am with UTLA because I have witnessed, experienced and utterly believe teaching is an art form,” she tells L.A. Weekly. “Furthermore, I am a child of LAUSD. I attended Lorena Street School, Bancroft Middle School Magnet and then went on to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. My most influential years were at Lorena Street School in Boyle Heights. I had a wonderful and creative teacher by the name of Ms. Helen Stringos. Ms. Stringos was able to utilize not only her trained skills as an educator but also her music and dance skills to teach in and around many subjects including social justice. She inspired me to learn and she continues to be one of my biggest influences. I honor her legacy by engaging in similar teaching approaches and lending my skills as a musician for actions such as the one I will engage in this Thursday afternoon.”
Gonzalez, who still performs with Quetzal (they are currently recording a new album), is also a teacher herself. The assistant professor for Scripps Claremont Colleges for the Intercollegiate Department of Chicano/a Latino/a Studies, says she values the art of teaching and knows firsthand that it takes great commitment and creativity to do it well. “We cannot teach without the support of a district,” she proclaims. “LAUSD teachers need to be respected and the district can demonstrate this by committing to a fair pay raise, smaller classrooms, support for the families of students, less damn testing and being more open to creative and innovative ways of reaching our youth. The district must also stop undermining public education by regulating co-location for charter schools. In short, our teachers have been through enough! LAUSD owes our teachers an apology and reparations now!”
The #Allin4Respect Rally for teachers and public education takes place today at 4 p.m. at Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., downtown. More info at utla.net.