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Occupy movement rallies at L.A. school district headquarters

October 18, 2011 | 10:08 pm

Occupy LAUSD protest

About 200 protesters gathered near downtown Tuesday to link the nationwide Occupy Wall Street-inspired protests to budgets cuts and layoffs in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“Occupy LAUSD” participants took on the district, education philanthropists and charter schools as well as giving voice to familiar themes such as opposing corporate greed and inequality. Many of the demonstrators had marched from the main Occupy L.A. campsite around City Hall, more than a mile away.

English teacher Greta Enszer spoke at the school board meeting going on inside district headquarters and then addressed the crowd outside in similar terms.

“This is not OK to lay off permanent teachers,” she told the school board. “This [job] is not a stepping stone to me. This is my profession. My students are very important to me.”

Enszer is working as a long-term substitute teacher at her former school, West Adams Preparatory High School, while she hopes to be hired back.

Outside the Beaudry Avenue building, just west of downtown, adult education teacher Matthew Kogan criticized a status quo in which, he said, rich philanthropists such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates have more power than parents with children in schools. The name of each philanthropist elicited boos.

Independently operated charter schools, most of which are non-union, also took a pummeling.

The demonstration was not sanctioned by the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, but it included scores of teachers. Many accused L.A. Unified of holding onto funds that could be used to hire back laid off teachers.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy blamed UTLA for the protest.

“I wish UTLA could shift its energy from protest as the norm to negotiation for reform,” he said in a statement. He also objected to linking the leadership of L.A. Unified with Wall Street.

“Occupy LAUSD is both misinformed and contrary to the spirit and intent of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy L.A., and the other laudable movements for economic justice that have sprung up around the country and the world over the last month,” he said. “It is an insult for these protesters to equate a school district that during the past four years has experienced a $2 billion loss of dollars in state and federal funding, with policies and institutions that have systematically hurt the poor and middle class.”

Deasy’s positions had support from a coalition of parents and organizations -- including one funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- that called at Tuesday’s meeting for a quick resolution to contract negotiations between L.A. Unified and the teachers union.

This group -- which includes the local United Way, the Urban League, Alliance for a Better Community and the Gates-supported Communities for Teaching Excellence -- advocated positions similar to those supported by Deasy in contract negotiations. A primary demand was to adopt a “mutual consent” hiring policy, under which schools would not be forced to fill vacancies with teachers displaced from other schools. 

Union officials have said such a change could fatally undermine important job protections for all teachers.

At times, the protest outside and the coalition of community groups inside had the look of independent proxies for the two sides of the contract talks.

But veteran substitute teacher Neil Chertcoff implored rally participants not to let politicians, unions or any special interest co-opt the energy and message. And he also wanted them to spread the word.

“Let them know that you’re part of a movement and you’re not going to take it anymore,” Chertcoff said.


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 -- Howard Blume

Photo: Occupy LAUSD supporters rally outside L.A. Unified headquarters. Credit: Christina House / For The Times