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Pact Averts L.A. Teacher Strike, But Some Issues Unresolved

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Although Los Angeles teachers and school officials approved a tentative settlement in time to avert a strike scheduled for Feb. 23, the district's ability to pay for the $79 million pact is in doubt.

The agreement, which was reached during sessions mediated by Willie L. Brown Jr., the Speaker of the California Assembly, requires the district to trim back a pay cut for some 40,000 teachers, counselors, and school nurses from 12 percent to 10 percent. The district imposed the reduction last December to help narrow a $400 million budget shortfall.

Leticia Quezada, the school board president, said the provision will cost the district about $72 million over two years.

"I think it was a difficult contract to agree to,'' said Ms. Quezada, "because we had already said we could not go below this 12 percent. But, in my estimation, a strike would have been worse.''

The district probably will have to exhaust its $31 million reserve fund to come up with the $36 million that will be needed to restore teachers' pay this year, Ms. Quezada said.

The pact, however, hinges on the district's ability to make up the balance by obtaining permission from the state to use money earmarked for textbooks, gifted programs, special education, and other purposes--a prospect that remains in doubt.

Legislative Action Needed

Maureen DiMarco, Gov. Pete Wilson's secretary of child development and education, said last week that "preliminary information indicates'' that state budget and fiscal-solvency laws would bar the state board of education from granting waivers to the Los Angeles district.

The earmarked funds, she said, probably could be freed only by legislative action.

Mr. Brown has promised to use his considerable political clout in the legislature to persuade the state to lift the restrictions on the funds.

"I think there is a lot of debate going on in Sacramento,'' Ms. Quezada said. "But that is really out of our territory.''

Catherine Carey, the communications director for United Teachers-Los Angeles, said that although union leaders are concerned about the need for waivers, "Speaker Brown promised that he would see it through.''

Teachers Empowered

Although the union was dissatisfied with the salary cut, other contract provisions would give teachers more authority in the classroom and the union more leverage in bargaining.

"The money portion is extremely distasteful to all our membership,'' said Ms. Carey. "But the non-monetary items that give teachers and other personnel more decisionmaking power are very good.''

The provisions would give teachers, on the basis of seniority, more authority to select class assignments and choose their schedules at schools on year-round schedules.

Administrators, who would see their powers diminished under the pact, were critical.

"We don't have a problem, generally speaking, with teacher empowerment,'' said Roger Johnson, the executive assistant for the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

But, he continued, some of the decisionmaking provisions "are in direct conflict'' with reform proposals developed by the private group Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now that he said "make principals more accountable in the schools.'' (See Education Week, Feb. 17, 1993.)

LEARN's proposed school reforms have been praised by teachers, principals, and school officials. Mr. Johnson said he expects that the school board will approve the alliance's plan.

68 Percent Approval

Sixty-eight percent of the district's 27,000 unionized teachers voted to approve the contract, which was reached after six days of negotiations presided over by Mr. Brown. Six of the school board's seven members approved a draft of the plan a few days prior to the union rank and file's vote.

The agreement, which had not yet been put into writing as of late last week, capped off six months of strained relations between district and union leaders.

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