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L.A. Teachers, Board Members To Meet With Lawmaker in Effort To Avert Strike

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Los Angeles teachers and school board members were scheduled to meet with the Speaker of the California Assembly last weekend in a last-ditch effort to avert a strike set to begin on Feb. 23.

Spokeswomen for United Teachers-Los Angeles and the board both said they were hopeful that Speaker of the House Willie Lewis Brown Jr., could broker an agreement that would shield students against what would be the district's second teachers' strike in four years.

The union received a large, unexpected lift to its morale recently when The Los Angeles Times published the results of a poll that found widespread support for the teachers' position in the dispute.

About 70 percent of those surveyed said a teacher strike would be justified. Another 66 percent said they thought the district could solve its financial problems without cutting teachers' pay.

The dispute began last fall when the board announced plans to cut teachers' pay by 9 percent to help close a $400 million budget gap.

"The poll was really heartening,'' said Catherine Carey, the communications director for the U.T.L.A. "I think it showed that parents really understood the issues more than we thought they did.''

The union also recently announced that in an effort to win even more public support, it will run a half-hour "infomercial'' on a local television station two days before the scheduled strike.

In an interview last week, Leticia Quezada, the president of the school board, downplayed the significance of the survey findings.

"Many of the findings in the poll did not surprise me,'' she said. "The public has a tremendous sympathy for the teachers and thinks they should be paid more.''

Last Hope?

Last week, Ms. Quezada and union officials both said that the negotiations that were to have been chaired by Mr. Brown could be their last hope for averting the walkout, which is set to begin a week after many of the district's 645,000 students return for the spring semester.

District officials had not held a face-to-face meeting with Helen Bernstein, the U.T.L.A. president, for several weeks. Mr. Brown, however, had been meeting with both sides separately prior to last weekend's scheduled session.

"There is still no way to avoid the cuts,'' said Ms. Quezada. "But I think there is a lot of room for agreement. We're looking for Mr. Brown's negotiations to bring a solution.''

Ms. Carey of the U.T.L.A. said that "the Speaker has asked pointed questions and he understands where we are.''

"I think there's a major opportunity to get this settled,'' she said.

Darolyn Davis, Mr. Brown's press secretary, said last week that the assemblyman is "coming closer to a recommendation'' for ending the standoff. She declined to elaborate.

If the negotiations fail and the strike occurs, teachers probably will picket outside their schools in the morning and late afternoon as they did during the last strike in 1989, Ms. Carey said.

Ms. Quezada said the district will "probably provide for teachers in the classroom and safety in the schools, especially after the L.A. riots.''

"We're in close contact with [city police] so we can handle this,'' she said.

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