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Strike in L.A. Postponed; Teachers Weigh Pay Plan

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After postponing a teachers' strike that was scheduled to begin Feb. 23, members of the United Teachers-Los Angeles were expected to vote late last week on a compromise pay agreement offered by Willie Lewis Brown Jr., the Speaker of the California House.

Mr. Brown's plan, which was drafted after union and district negotiators were unable to reach an agreement after three days of talks, reduced a cumulative pay cut for teachers from 12 percent to 10 percent, but did not stipulate that teachers' pay would not be cut in the future.

Although the school board last week approved Mr. Brown's plan, union members appeared to be divided over its merits.

Union leaders declined to make a recommendation to the membership, but Helen Bernstein, the president of the U.T.L.A., last week predicted that the offer would be accepted by roughly 60 percent of the teachers.

If the plan is rejected, teachers are set to walk out on March 1.

Voting materials were to have been distributed Feb. 24 and 25 to teachers throughout the district with the results expected to be announced Feb. 26, according to Catherine Carey, the union's communications director.

Six of the school board's seven members voted "in full support of the Brown proposal,'' with one member abstaining, said Diana Munatones, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

She said that Sid Thompson, the acting superintendent, has also publicly backed the compromise.

"We're eagerly awaiting the vote of the union,'' added Ms. Munatones.

'Me-Too' Agreements Targeted

The last-ditch proposal includes provisions designed to increase teachers' power and restore respect to the profession.

It also carries a provision that would require the district to give U.T.L.A. members a 10 percent bonus should school officials renew controversial "me-too'' agreements with other unions.

Those agreements, which waylaid the mediation talks, prohibit the district from giving a better contract deal to teachers than to other employees. Union members view the agreements as a district effort to set the various unions against each other.

Two points the union had been insisting on in the negotiations--elimination of the pay cuts and a guarantee that salaries would not be cut again next year--were not realized in the compromise agreement, however.

To pay for the 2 percent difference in the cut, the district would "have to take money out of its reserve fund,'' explained Ms. Munatones.

Dipping into the fund normally requires a state waiver, but Mr. Brown drafted the plan with a guarantee that this could be done without the approval of the state, she added.

In the throes of a crippling budget crisis, the district voted last October to add a 9 percent pay cut to the 3 percent it could not repay from the previous year.

The move, which was intended to help close a $400 million budget gap, precipitated a contract dispute that eventually led nearly 80 percent of the union's members to vote to strike if the district did not rescind the cuts.

A teachers' strike would be the second in four years for the nation's second-largest school district.

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