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L.A. Schools Turn to Students To Relieve Worker Shortage

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Crippled by budget reductions and a shortage of adult job applicants, the Los Angeles Unified School District has initiated an "emergency'' pilot program that will allow its principals to hire students as part-time clerical and custodial workers.

The program, approved recently by the school board, is to be used only as a last resort in seven of the district's 550 junior and senior high schools, according to James Taylor, associate superintendent. He said students will be permitted to work no more than four hours per day at minimum wage.

'Emergency Situation'

Under the plan, principals from three designated junior high schools and four senior high schools are authorized to hire students only if no adult worker is available for temporary or--in the case of clerical positions--permanent employment and there is an "emergency situation."

Mr. Taylor defined emergency situations as those in which the health and safety of students are at stake, or in which critical administrative duties are impeded by staff shortages.

Student workers are to be paid $3.35 an hour, the district's "student wage rate," and they are required to have a student work permit, according to Mr. Taylor. Work permits are issued only with parental permission, he said, noting that that means part-time school employment will be accepted by students with the knowledge of their parents.

In addition, Mr. Taylor emphasized, no student will be excused from classes to perform clerical or custodial tasks. He said the district's schools operate on "a four- or five-period day" which would leave more than two hours each day for some students to work between or after classes. "It's not designed as a money-saving device, he said. "You have to understand that there were two elements that precipitated the proposal."

For the past seven years, according to Mr. Taylor, the school district has had to cut back on custodial services as a result of a constant financial crunch, and is able at present only to hire part-time, temporary maintenance workers. "There are custodian people who would welcome a full-time permanent custodial job," he said.

In addition, the district has been faced with a "critical shortage" of skilled clerical staff, and has been unable to recruit new office workers for about 300 positions--even though these are full-time permanent positions. Eva Hain, the district's public information officer, attributes the lack of applicants to the fact that the wages and benefits for school employees have not kept pace with those offered in private industry. Moreover, she suggested, it is difficult to attract adult workers to school employment when they know that there could be "another cut in personnel."

In 1978, California voters approved Proposition 13, a statewide property-tax measure that curtailed the amount of money for the schools. The district's worker shortage was compounded last year, according to Mr. Taylor, when the Reagan Administration terminated the public-service portion of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which enabled school districts to hire employees paid for with federal funds under the program.

School officials estimate, according to Mr. Taylor, that with a $1.9-million addition to the current $1.8-billion budget, the district "could begin to restore building maintenance to an appropriate level."

The district's plan to hire junior- and senior-high-school students as part-time workers concerned school-board member, Rita Waters, who voted against the plan because it will "take jobs away from adults." A second board member abstained from the vote.

Responding to the dissenting board member's concern, Mr. Taylor said that the adult-worker argument has relevance only in the case of the custodial staff. He said unlike the clerical positions, there are applicants who would accept a custodial position if the district could afford to hire.

Mr. Taylor said the school employees' association also objected "as a matter of principle." But, he said, the association's leaders recognized that the program is "so small in scope ... that it is not a great issue."

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