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Can a labor union transform a school? SEIU Local 99 is trying

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The union representing Los Angeles school employees — cafeteria workers, custodians, teachers' assistants and others — is launching a pilot program to help students at four schools get access to counseling and health care.

They say their workers can help provide a missing link.

"Optimizing Access to Services, Inspiring Success," or OASIS, will train employees to coordinate  with outside providers, tapping into city, county and nonprofit agencies that provide counseling, dental and vision care as well as tutoring and vocational support.

"It's a little bit odd, I think, when people hear a labor union – specifically a classified labor union – is taking on operation like OASIS that focuses on the health and wellness of kids and families," said Lester Garcia, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 99. "I think it's important for us as a labor union and as a labor movement to think about how we mobilize our members and our supporters for the public good."

The pilot got the blessing of Superintendent John Deasy last school year and represents a unique partnership between administrators and the union to experiment with new policy.

Last month, KPCC reported many L.A. Unified schools lacked counselors and did not set up their own partnerships with county mental health service providers, missing a shot at free or low-cost care for kids.

Under the program, the union will shoulder the cost of training and coordinating for the launch. Together, the four pilot schools will pledge $750,000 in federal money for low-income students, called Title I,  to pay for a social service aide, a counseling aide and a parent liaison.

The program is rolling out over the summer at Audubon Middle School, Fremont High School, Utah Street School and Venice High School.

Garcia said SEIU Local 99 will measure the effectiveness of the program through student attendance rates and parent engagement at the schools.