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San Diego Teachers Strike in Dispute Over Pay

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Teachers in the San Diego Unified School District, the second largest in California, went on strike last week in a dispute over salaries and how much authority should be given school-governance committees.

Elsewhere in the state, Oakland teachers staged a one-day walkout last week to protest stalled contract negotiations.

The San Diego strike began Feb. 1, after an all-night mediation session failed to resolve the issues dividing the district and the San Diego Teachers Association, which represents 5,825 teachers.

Schools throughout the 130,000-student San Diego district were open as the strike began, staffed by substitutes and a handful of teachers who crossed picket lines. Union officials estimated that 90 percent of their members stayed off the job.

Superintendent Bertha Pendleton said in a statement that she "deeply regretted" the decision to strike, calling it "counterproductive to the open, cooperative atmosphere needed to settle this contract."

San Diego has earned a national reputation as an innovative urban district with a commitment to reform.

The district has embraced the movement to push decisionmaking to the school level, has cut its dropout rate, and last year won a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to overhaul its approach to professional development.

But William M. Crane, the president of the teachers' union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said the strike had been a long time coming. "This district is turning toward more top-down decisionmaking and less collaboration," he said.

Money and Authority

Teachers have not received cost-of-living raises since the 1990-91 school year and had been working under an expired contract since last summer.

A fact finder appointed by the state public-employment-relations board was brought in to help reach an agreement on a new contract after negotiations conducted with the help of a state mediator stalled.

But the school district last month rejected the fact finder's report, which was supported by the union.

The teachers' union had sought a one-year contract with a 7 percent general salary increase and additional increases for veteran teachers at the top of the salary scale. The district proposed a three-year contract with a 3.85 percent general increase the first year, plus a 0.95 percent bonus.

In the second and third years, teachers would have received another 0.95 percent bonus and cost-of-living increases paid for by the state.

Although money was a significant concern for teachers, Mr. Crane said the union also was seeking contract language that would spell out more clearly the authority of San Diego's school-based-management teams.

The teachers' association pressed for the teams to be given authority over their schools' budgets, staffing, scheduling of classes and students, school climate, and instructional programs. In addition, the union sought guarantees that a majority of the teams' members would be teachers.

The district rejected the union's proposal, arguing that including detailed rules for the school-governance process in the teachers' contract would be inappropriate because parents, administrators, and classified employees also participate in the governance teams.

The current shared-decisionmaking process, governed by a district task force, allows each school to determine the makeup of its governance team, the method for reaching agreements, and the areas for which they will assume authority.

The teachers' union also sought a joint district-union task force to assess school achievement and help schools that were not performing acceptably.

The district contended that the issue was not subject to collective bargaining.

The district also balked at a request by the union to establish, through the contract, a permanent staff-development council to oversee professional development. The district argued that teachers could become involved instead through a less formal memorandum of understanding.

Oakland Walkout

In Oakland, teachers in the 52,000-student district staged their second walkout in two months on Jan. 30 to protest stalled negotiations over a new contract

The district's teachers were angered by a lack of progress on teachers' salaries and class size, according to Peter Haberfeld, an executive director of the 3,500-member Oakland Education Association.

Union members, who have been without a new contract since June 30, 1994, walked out for two days in November. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

Staff Writer Jeanne Ponessa contributed to this report.

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