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Los Angeles Teachers Vote To Move Strike Date to May 15

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Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district were scheduled to strike May 15, instead of later this month as originally intended, under a unanimous vote last week by the House of Representatives of the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

The union's decision to move up the strike from its initial May 30 date followed an announcement by Superintendent of Schools Leonard M. Britton that he would withhold the May paychecks of any teachers who did not turn in their end-of-the-year grades for students by the beginning of this week.

Mr. Britton also warned teachers that their fringe benefits would not be covered by the district if they struck while on a "no pay" status.

A union spokesman described the the school chief's action as "an ultimatum" that had virtually guaranteed a strike.

Mr. Britton made his decision to move up the deadline for grades without consulting the school board, which has been sharply divided over the negotiation of a new teacher contract.

Late last week, school-board members and the superintendent were meeting in a closed-door session, trying to avert a walkout that both sides agreed could prevent students from graduating or being promoted to the next grade.

Informal discussions between the presidents of the union and the school board had not resulted in any progress by late last Thursday.

School Board's Plan

At a meeting last week, members of the Los Angeles Board of Education approved a four-point plan that eventually would enable some teachers to earn as much as or more than administrators with the same credentials, education, and experience.

Under the plan proposed by a board member, Jackie Goldberg, the district would commit itself to establishing one salary schedule for both teachers and administrators. The district now has separate pay scales for the two groups that enable administrators to earn substantially more.

The plan directs Mr. Britton to establish a broad-based task force that would report back to the board no later than July 1, 1990, on ways to develop and implement a single scale.

The proposal also directs the superintendent to come up with new career options for teachers that would enable them to assume more responsibilities at higher pay without leaving the classroom.

According to the proposal, teachers who participated in such career options would be paid at rates equal to or higher than those of administrative personnel.

The proposal also requires all administrators with teaching credenel15ltials to do at least some teaching on a limited, but regular, basis.

Under the plan, school-based administrators would be required to teach at least one course one semester every other school year. Other certified administrators would be required to teach at least 45 hours every other year.

Don Schrack, a union spokesman, said the proposals were a "great move forward," but were not sufficient to prevent a strike. The union has demanded a 21 percent pay raise for teachers over two years. (See Education Week, May 3, 1989)

The district recently improved its salary offer to 21.5 percent over three years, when it learned that a state tax windfall and additional lottery revenues could bring in at least $45 million in new funds this year. That offer was rejected by the union.

Also at issue are the elimination of playground duty for elementary teachers and the provision of a pre4paration period; the return of docked pay to teachers who have refused to perform nonteaching duties since the beginning of the school year; and the make-up of new decisionmaking teams at the school site.

District officials last week said they were preparing to bring in substitute and retired teachers and certified administrators to fill in for striking teachers in the event of a walkout. The school year is scheduled to run until June 23.

Legality of Strike

Whether the Los Angeles teachers technically are allowed to strike this week without putting themselves in legal jeopardy remains unclear.

A report by an independent fact-finder on the negotiations was due to be issued in the middle of this week. Technically, a strike might not be legal until that report is made public.

But an official with the state's Public Employment Relations Board said that body would take no action on the legality of the strike unless the district requested injunctive relief.

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