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L.A. Teachers Vote To Continue Talks In Effort To Head Off Pay Cuts, Strike

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By Ann Bradley

Teachers in Los Angeles voted last week to give their negotiating team more time to try to stave off a proposed cut in teacher pay, rather than call a strike for next week.

Preliminary results from a poll of the union's 34,000 members showed that some 87 percent favored rejecting the school district's salary proposal and sending the negotiating team back to the table.

Of the 11,640 votes that had been counted as of late last week, 7.5 percent were in favor of an immediate strike and 5.6 percent favored accepting the district's offer.

Teachers may still decide to take a strike vote later if the talks are not successful, union officials noted.

The financially strapped Los Angeles Unified School District has asked its teachers to take 3 percent pay cuts and two nonpaid days as part of an attempt to balance the district's budget.

The proposal would amount to a 4 percent annual salary reduction, according to the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

The district has pledged to pay the money back, with interest, next year if it has sufficient funds.

School administrators in Los Angeles have agreed to a similar proposal that would reduce administrators' salaries this year by about 6.5 percent. (See Education Week, Nov. 6, 1991 .)

But the teachers' union insists that the district has not made the deep cuts in school administration that the union has long maintained should be made.

A fact-finding report issued by a three-member panel that examined the district's budget after the negotiations with the teachers reached an impasse has concluded, however, that the union should agree to the reductions.

"The district is faced with a true financial crisis, has exhausted all of its financial alternatives, and has arrived at a reasonable package," the report says. "The panel was unable to identify any significant uncommitted funds or overstated expenses.''

$107 Million in Cuts Sought

In order to balance the district budget, which officials say was $274 million short this school year, the Los Angeles schools already have laid off 1,900 employees-most of whom were not classroom teachers--and increased class sizes by up to three students, the fact-finding report notes.

But those cuts left about $107 million that the district is seeking to make up through negotiating salary reductions with its employees.

The teachers' union maintains that the district is "attempting to use the fiscal situation to renege on negotiated salary increases, and to take revenge against the union for its successful job action in May of 1989," the report says.

The union also contends, the fact-finders write, that the district's "grossly inadequate budgeting practices" have contributed to the budget crisis and that the district "had and continues to have the revenue necessary to fund those salary levels."

In a lengthy "minority report" attached to the fact-finding report, the union's representative argues that the district has not set priorities against which to judge programs. Instead, the dissenting statement maintains, programs are replicated year after year "without any accountability."

Without identifying specific programs that might be targeted, the fact-finding report says that the teachers' union "believes there are additional large-scale reductions that are called for in this crisis and is willing to explore those, regardless of whose ox gets gored--programs and functions that do not immediately contribute to the primary mission must be eliminated or mothballed until they can be afforded."

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