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As Los Angeles Strike Begins, Fact-finder Says Union Should Accept Board's Offer

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A majority of Los Angeles teachers were still on strike last Friday, after the school district and United Teachers of Los Angeles failed to reach a settlement.

The five-day-old strike has created chaos in the nation's second largest school system, with more than half its 553,000 students failing to report for school.

Closed-door negotiations between both parties were still going on late last week.

At a press conference on May 17, the district released the results of a long-awaited report by an independent fact-finder, Geraldine Randall, who was brought in to investigate the reasons for the impasse between the two sides.

According to the school-board president, Roberta Weintraub, the report "totally exonerated" the district from charges the union has leveled at it. "We are free and clear, and what we have been saying is the truth," she stated.

The fact-finder recommended that utla accept the district's4current offer as "fair and reasonable." Ms. Randall called the proposed, three-year salary increase--of 8 percent in the first year, a minimum of 5.5 percent the next, and 8 percent the final year--"among the best in Los Angeles County, in the state of California, and in the entire United States."

She based her conclusions on salary comparisons with other large California school districts, cost-of-living considerations, and overall compensation and employee benefits.

Ms. Randall also disputed utla's contention that the district is spending too little on classroom needs and too much on administration. The fact-finder determined that the district "spends a greater percentage of its current expenses in the classroom (67 percent) than 17 of the 21 largest districts in California."

She also refuted the union's contention that the district has "surplus" funds to pay for a larger salary increase. "The district8spends its entire income," she stated; "any significant decline in the ending balances would be indicative of deficit spending, and cause for concern."

Union officials termed the fact-finder's report "moot," however, based on new state revenue projections released last week. According to those figures, the state will have a surplus of approximately $2.5 billion in the next 13 months, approximately 9 to 10 percent of which might go to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

During a press conference held by the union, the utla's president, Wayne Johnson, reiterated his call for the district to begin immediate negotiations. As a "good faith" gesture, he also modified the union's salary-increase request from 21 percent over two years--or 11 percent in 1988-89 and 10 percent in 1989-90--to 26 percent over three years--or 10 percent, 8 percent, and 8 percent.

Ms. Weintraub earlier had rejected that offer.--lo

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