On Monday morning, a chartered bus made its way from Northridge to downtown Los Angeles, where teachers were beginning to strike in search of a new collective bargaining agreement.
In it sat Santa Clarita resident Drew Townsend, who is a school psychologist at Northridge Middle School. He, like the teachers he sat next to on the bus, was worried about his future.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, in which Townsend teaches, had reached a deadlock in its negotiations with teachers union representatives. A failure to agree on terms led to the beginning of a strike for the United Teachers Los Angeles, which is made up of 30,000 educators. They had been trying to negotiate with the district for almost two years on salary increases, staff sizing and class caps.
“It was pretty amazing to see that many people out,” Townsend said. He went and picketed with everyone, feeling strongly that the future of his students might be at stake.
“The way they fund my position, the school has to buy my time,” he said. “So I work for the district, but the psych services have to be reimbursed from the school. So because the school budgets are so small, they have to make a decision about how many days are there, and sometimes it comes down to a decision between me and a social worker.
“If we had more resources, it wouldn’t be hard to make a decision,” he said. “But the work has to be done. And because schools don’t have enough funding, kids aren’t getting the help they need at times.”
Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, also found the situation in Los Angeles concerning, as did members of the Newhall Teachers Association, which represents teachers in the Newhall School District.
Thus, Smith’s Santa Clarita office partnered with the local teachers union to provide support and solidarity to the teachers in Los Angeles, gathering snacks, ponchos, cases of water and Starbucks gift cards to bring down.
“As someone who’s been on a school board, I certainly understand the constraints that L.A. unified is operating under,” the assemblywoman said. “There’s no shortage of costs and unmet needs. But that being said, I also understand why UTLA and LAUSD teachers have felt the need to take this stand, and some of the challenges we’re facing are about the direction of public education in this state.
“What’s troubling to me is we have so many UTLA teachers who live across the 38th (Assembly) district,” she said. “Families and students are losing out on counseling support services and reasonable and manageable class sizes. I sincerely hope that the two sides will be able to come back to the table sooner rather than later.”
The contract UTLA is trying to negotiate would affect individuals like Townsend and fellow Santa Clarita resident Jorge Ruiz, who is a special education teacher in Sylmar.
Ruiz teaches at Osceola Street Elementary School in Sylmar and said he believes the students deserve better, especially because funding affects the special education department directly.
“We’re doing this for our students and our schools,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re doing it for our future teachers, if you see this and you’re wanting to be a teacher in college. Doing it for kids and a better future. I hope in the end it’s worth it and our schools are fully funded and we have complete staff.”
Townsend said he believes people in Santa Clarita need to remember that there are many benefits to an educated population with a wealth of resources, even if they live in Los Angeles.
“The important part for people to think about how it does or doesn’t affect this area is the people that go to LAUSD do eventually move to this area,” he said. “Everyone benefits from better education. It’s not just something that’s just benefitting Los Angeles.”
Hilary Hall, co-president of the Newhall Teachers Association, said the union members had sent out messages on social media and were also corresponding with other Santa Clarita teachers’ unions to get out the word about bringing supplies to LAUSD.
Food, drinks and other supplies are all welcome for drop off at Smith’s office at 27441 Tourney Road, suite 160.