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Los Angeles Teaches Poised To Strike After Lengthy Impasse

May 13, 1989

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district, seeking more money and more control of the curriculum, are threatening a strike Monday that could create chaos for 594,000 students weeks before school’s end.

The United Teachers-Los Angeles, representing 22,000 of the district’s 32,000 teachers, nurses and counselors, said its members would keep at home with them the attendance and grade records that School Superintendent Leonard Britton demanded be handed in by Monday.

The records, said Telfair Avenue Elementary School teacher Stanley Malin, ″are already gone. That’s no decision.″ A Monday strike would be the district’s first since a 23-day walkout in 1970.

Britton’s demand to teachers to hand in their grades by Monday caused UTLA to move up its strike deadline from May 30. Classes end June 26 for most schools in the 700-square-mile district, and Britton said putting the strike deadline so close to the end of school was extortionate.

The district has vowed to keep its 800 elementary and high schools open with substitute teachers who were being mass-hired into the weekend. Officials admitted they may function just a step above baby-sitters.

The past week was filled with news conferences and posturing, but little in the way of progress between the sides, which have been bargaining on and off for 16 months. Teachers have been working without a contract for a year.

No formal negotiations were scheduled over the weekend, but both sides were meeting informally and talking on the telephone. Still, there was little optimism.

″Doing all that doesn’t erase a $200 million difference,″ said chief district negotiator Dick Fisher on Friday. ″People of good faith can talk and meet and do all those things and still not reach an agreement.″

Only late in the week was any move made by state legislators to push for a settlement or find additional money to help the school district meet salary demands.

Bob Forsyth, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, said the district would get at least $34 million in new revenue that could be used for teacher salaries.

Asked if students were being used as pawns, Fairfax High School student body president Yasmina Porter said, ″We are, and we know that this is the only bargaining tool teachers have, so we understand.″

But parents expressed concern.

″I’m not real thrilled about substitutes. I think it’s going to be utter chaos,″ said Christen Dingman, 40, of Chatsworth, who has two sons in school. ″The teachers are being greedy.″

Instructors want a two-year contract with a 21 percent wage increase. They also want elimination of non-paid teaching duties such as faculty meetings and after-school playground monitoring, plus a say in how their schools are run, an issue called teacher governance.

The district has offered a 21.5 percent pay increase over a three-year period, and has offered a teacher governance structure which the UTLA has said is too tilted toward administrators.

The teachers in March overwhelmingly rejected a district offer for a 20 percent pay raise over three years and voted strike authorization at that time. The issues went to a state fact-finder whose report is due Wednesday.

Currently, teachers annually earn from $23,440 to $43,319.

Administrators’ salaries start at $37,000 and go to $95,600 for associate superintendents. Britton earns $141,000 as superintendent.

Union President Wayne Johnson blamed Britton for the impasse, saying the superintendent has not been flexible enough. But Johnson admits that his union’s derogatory references to Britton’s salary and administration style were aimed at ″pushing his buttons.″

Johnson said in an interview that he has not been able to establish the kind of informal contact with Britton that usually keeps both sides talking.

″I tried that with him,″ he said. ″I gave him my home telephone number, and the only time he called me was because he was furious over some message we put out on our hotline. That made me realize he was sensitive and takes things personally. ... You’d better have a pretty thick hide for that job.″

Several attempts were made by The Associated Press during the past week to reach Britton or get his responses through a representative, all without success.

So far, the possibility of a teachers’ strike has not aroused parents and legislators as it usually does elsewhere, one observer says.

″In other cities, there’s usually a lot of pressure from the parents and business community. You don’t hear much here,″ said Priscilla Wohlstetter, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California.

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