When teachers and the community stand shoulder-to-shoulder, marching in support of school kids, good things usually happen.

On a small-scale, we learned that lesson here in our own community just a few months ago.  Remember?  Irvine parents and teachers joined together to protest the proposed $2 million cut in the City’s annual budget support for school nurses, counselors and school resource officers.  Mayor Christina Shea and City Manager John Russo had to quickly withdraw their proposed cuts in the face of growing citizen opposition.

Look at what Los Angeles did
Putting a stop to foolish cutbacks is one thing.  But, on a much larger scale, last January we learned what teachers and citizens, working together, can accomplish affirmatively.  On TV and through the internet, we witnessed the remarkable — and remarkably successful — Los Angeles teachers’ strike.  After months of fruitless bargaining with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials, thousands of members of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) took a vote and went out on strike.  Joined in the streets by tens of thousands of parents and grandparents and residents from throughout L.A., the strike was not about higher wages.  It was really much more about teachers’ demands for improved classroom working conditions and critically needed support services.

Specifically, UTLA was engaged in what has been dubbed “Bargaining for the Common Good.”  This meant laying out popular community-supported demands which — after a week of striking and picketing and marching — were ultimately granted by the LAUSD School Board and administrators.  Here is what LAUSD agreed to do:

  Guarantee that every school will have a full-time school nurse every day. (LAUSD agreed to hire 150 school nurses.)

  Guarantee that there will be a teacher-librarian in every middle school and high school.  (LAUSD agreed to hire 41 full-time teacher-librarians.)

  Guarantee a new, lower, student-to-counselor ratio of 500-to-1. (LAUSD agreed to hire at least 17 additional counselors.)

  LAUSD agreed to reduce average class sizes by 4 students over the next 3 years.

  LAUSD agreed to join with teachers to work to reduce student testing by as much as 50 percent.

These are the kinds of dramatic school improvements desperately needed here in Irvine — more school nurses, counselors, librarians and, of course, more teachers to reduce class sizes.  I think we have to ask ourselves:  Why isn’t Irvine doing better?

Let’s do better
Full disclosure:  My husband John Inmon and I are lifelong educators.  Retired now, John was a beloved principal here in Irvine schools, and I was a teacher in the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) for many years before moving on to teach in community college.  There, I became a leader in our teachers’ union — pushing for better pay and working conditions for teachers.

John and I have spent years singing the praises of IUSD and its teachers and staff.  But, in truth, in recent years I think we see a School Board and administration that has grown complacent — too self-satisfied and self-congratulatory.  Similarly, the No. 1 priority of the Irvine Teachers Association appears to be to “get along by going along” with IUSD’s top administrators, rather than pressing for big, bold steps to improve our schools.  Can anyone doubt that Irvine needs more school nurses and mental health services and school security officers and more classroom teachers?

I hope many of us will think about these things this summer and start the new school year determined to do better.

Irvine teachers need to show some grit by “bargaining for the common good,” just as teachers did in Los Angeles with the backing of the entire community.

Carolyn Inmon

Carolyn is a retired Irvine teacher. She taught at virtually every grade level, from K-12, as well as community college. She served as President of the Community College Association from 2005-2007. Carolyn co-authored a book with Tanya Brown, entitled, “The Seven Characters of Abuse: Domestic Violence — Where it Starts and Where It Can End.” Carolyn can be reached at: carolyn@irvinecommunitynews.org
Carolyn Inmon