For the second time in as many weeks, Long Beach teachers rallied at a Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education meeting on Wednesday evening, protesting for better wages and relief from what they feel are higher and higher demands from the district since the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 400 teachers rallied outside the board meeting, with a demonstration that could be heard inside the board chambers over the district’s livestream.
The differences between the Teachers Association of Long Beach and the LBUSD—the city’s largest union and its largest employer—seem simple on the surface, as they did when the teachers last rallied at a board meeting two weeks ago. The LBUSD wants teachers to work an additional four days, without students, and is offering an 8% ongoing raise. But the division between the district and its teachers is clearly deeper, as the protest outside the boardroom and the comments inside of it illustrated.
TALB president Christine Kelly underlined her membership’s frustrations during a three-minute public testimony to the board.
“Most (LBUSD) senior staff has been out of the class for a decade or more,” she said. “Things have changed dramatically in the past four years alone. It’s because of these changes it’s important to listen to the people who are doing the job. … Our members are telling you it’s too much, it’s not safe, we need help with this.”
A fundamental issue is teachers feeling that the district is asking for additional days of “professional development” that they feel amount to out-of-touch trainings by the district, while they don’t feel their concerns about safety on campus are being listened to.
Teachers across the country have experienced severe burnout in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions, prompting early retirements and career-switching, a phenomenon common enough that one LBUSD teacher wrote an essay this year titled “Why I Didn’t Quit Teaching” because of how frequently he was seeing posts about why people did.
“Look at the number of your employees you have on leaves of absence,” said Kelly. “That is telling. I was speaking with a teacher who had been punched in the back of the head by a student. When he was checked out, the nurse told him, ‘You’re the third teacher I’ve seen this week.’ It’s not safe. … When it comes to bargaining, our members are angry. You’ve filled every moment of their day with more and more expectations, frequently with no support.”
In its most recent bargaining update, the LBUSD said it’s increased its offer from an 8% raise with a 2% one-time payment to an 8% raise with a 3% one-time payment. The district also said that while its original proposal was to add four pupil-free days to the calendar for teachers, the updated proposal was to add three pupil-free days beginning in the 2024-25 school year, and one additional pupil-free day in 2025-26.
TALB’s current counter-proposal, according to an update to its members, is a request for an 11% raise, with one additional pupil-free day, leaving the two sides far apart on one of the final sticking points of these contract negotiations. Perhaps more challenging than the compromise on numbers is the feeling teachers articulated Wednesday that they’ve been overlooked and overburdened by district leadership. One sign outside the meeting read, “Teacher Trauma is Real.”
“Our members are not being heard,” said Kelly. “They’re working at sites where out of control behaviors are a constant threat. They feel micromanaged by the district and they’re treated dismissively by principals and now even our Board of Education.”
Because the contract negotiations were not listed on the agenda, no boardmembers or district officials responded to the speakers. The next bargaining session between the two sides is scheduled for March 9, and the next board meeting is scheduled for March 15.