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L.A. Unified chief blasts teachers union's salary demands

L.A. Unified schools chief warns that the teachers union's pay demands will lead to "catastrophic" layoffs.

L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon Cortines blasted the teachers union's salary demands Monday, calling them an unrealistic proposal that would force "catastrophic" layoffs of other employees. 

After 16 meetings and months of contract negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles, Cortines issued a public letter sharply criticizing the union's demands for an 8.5% salary increase and other pay and earnings totaling 4.2% for the 2014-15 school year. He said the cost exceeded the district's offer by $833 million.

The district recently increased its offer to raise pay from 2% to 4%.

Cortines also said the union's demands to reduce class sizes would require the hiring of an additional 5,000 teachers and staff at an annual cost of $525 million. That proposal, Cortines said, would shift the burden of layoffs entirely onto other non-teaching school employees. 

The union has failed to identify funding sources for its proposals or accept the district's invitation to review its financial books, Cortines wrote, while putting aside millions for a potential teachers strike.

"UTLA leadership's persistent demands, coupled with its strike plans, therefore raise serious ethical and equity issues," he wrote.

Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl sharply disputed Cortines' allegations. He asserted that the superintendent's cost estimates were inflated, and that the district had failed to provide numerous financial documents requested by the union.

He also said the district could redirect money being used for legal services, outside consultants and its attempt to repair the malfunctioning student information system known as MISIS.

Caputo-Pearl called Cortines' efforts to cast the union as selfish as a "fabrication." He said teachers have worked with other employees to support demands for more custodians, higher wages, immigrant rights and other issues.

"It's unfortunate that Cortines is trying to divide us," he said. "He is using scare tactics to respond to our very successful organizing effort."

In his letter, Cortines wrote that he had hoped the union's tough negotiating position was prompted in part by its feud with former Supt. John Deasy and that his departure last year would improve bargaining prospects. But he said he was troubled that no compromise appears in sight.

He called on the union to reexamine its demands and "their single-minded pursuit and organization of a disruptive strike against our students and the community."

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

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