L.A. Opts Not To Fight Decision Barring Cut in School Year

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Los Angeles school officials agreed last week not to contest a decision by the state board of education barring the district from cutting eight days from the end of the school year.

About 200 of the district's 700 schools had already adopted the new schedule, but were expected to resume regular classes last week, according to Diana Munatones, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The school board had voted to shorten the calendar so teachers would be able to collect a special form of unemployment benefits to cushion the blow of a 9 percent pay cut.

The teachers are poised to strike Feb. 22 over the pay cut.

Although the state board approved the district's request last October, it withdrew its support this month, saying that the abridged year would be a disruption for many of the district's 645,000 students, according to Greg Geeting, the board's executive director.

Ms. Munatones indicated that the state also did not see the savings as more than a chip in the district's estimated $400 million budget gap.

The district would have saved about $800,000 through the calendar change. But the move was designed primarily "to help the teachers,'' Ms. Munatones explained.

Under the state's unemployment compensation program, the furloughed teachers would have been eligible to collect up to $46 a day.

Union leaders agreed last year to allow employees to draw from the fund, but they criticized the district's plan to cut the school year.

In a letter to the state board, Helen Bernstein, the president of the U.T.L.A., said the new schedule "descended upon us without proper preparedness and the time it takes to academically inaugurate such a major change.''

And Catherine Carey, the communiciations director for the U.T.L.A., claimed that the district cut the year "for the savings'' and not for the teachers.

Although the state's decision to block the change marked a small victory for the U.T.L.A., Mr. Geeting said he doubts that the issue will affect the scheduled strike.

Teachers are set to walk out at the beginning of the spring semester over a 9 percent pay cut and what they view as district mismanagement.

A sticking point of the contract dispute has been the U.T.L.A.'s request that the district guarantee that it will not cut teachers' pay next year.

The district said it can promise at best a freeze if state funding remains at current levels.

Last week, officials from the district and the union were scheduled to meet with state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who was asked by both parties to mediate the dispute.

Vol. 12, Issue 17

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