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On the picket line

February 27, 2004 | Page 11

Los Angeles Unified School District
By Randy Childs, United Teachers Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES--About 1,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) rallied in four different locations across the city February 19 to demand improvements in teachers' working conditions and to protest the Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) wasteful administrative spending.

A central message of the rallies was a demand to cut funding for the LAUSD's notorious "mini-districts"--11 completely unnecessary district offices packed with administrators and consultants who dream up new directives that impose longer working hours, more paperwork and less academic freedom on classroom teachers. The union also used the rallies to make a big push for several ballot measures that are designed to wring a little extra money from state coffers for education.

But absent from official union slogans were key demands that rank-and-file teachers have been raising all year--a cap on class sizes, no concessions on health care benefits and opposition to Gov. Schwarzenegger's plans to cut $2 billion from education. A campaign around these issues would require UTLA to seriously challenge the upside-down priorities of both LAUSD and the state.

But UTLA officials seem unwilling to lead such a fight. Fortunately, Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC), a reform group within UTLA, mobilized for these rallies. PEAC activists passed out leaflets and stickers with slogans like "Fight overcrowding! Cap class size!" and "Budget cuts leave every child behind!"

Gillian Russom, a teacher at Roosevelt High School, spoke on behalf of her school at one of the rallies. "When I arrived at school this semester, I had 43 students in my fourth period class!" said Russom. "I can't even pass out papers without bumping into the students' desks!"

She called on teachers to get involved in PEAC. "We need to raise concrete demands that let the district know exactly what students and teachers need."

There are thousands of teachers in LA who want to see something done about budget cuts and overcrowding. These teachers should join PEAC and begin organizing independent of the union leadership to make it happen.

To find out more about PEAC, please call (310) 869-6321 and leave a message.

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