Las Virgenes Teachers Balk at Signing Pact

Times Staff Writer

Las Virgenes teachers' representatives said Monday they will refuse to sign a contract with their school district unless officials include a pay clause the teachers contend was agreed on earlier.

Union leaders said they would not ratify the three-year contract, which was narrowly approved by the teachers in an election March 8. They accused school officials of omitting in the final version a promise to raise salaries in the Las Virgenes Unified School District to those of comparable school systems in Los Angeles County within two years.

District officials said that the promise never was intended to be part of the contract. Instead, they added to the contract a letter saying the district would "attempt to achieve this goal" in "as timely a manner as possible." The Board of Education is to discuss the salary review process at 7 p.m. today at its Westlake Village headquarters.

Las Virgenes teachers now earn an average of $27,444 a year and have worked without a contract since last fall. The Las Virgenes Educators Assn. originally had demanded 10.2% raises but settled for 7.7% in exchange for the district's vow to raise pay by the start of the 1987-88 school year.

The 80-square-mile Las Virgenes district extends from Woodland Hills to Westlake Village. It has 7,625 students.

Mary Jane Lee, president of the Las Virgenes Educators Assn., said the teachers, who endorsed the pact by 50.6%, thought the pay clause was in the contract because it had been discussed in negotiations.

"We have not ratified the contract," said Lee, a third-grade teacher. "We're not going to sign it until that language is there."

Talk of New Vote

Lee said she will call for a new vote by Las Virgenes' 322 teachers if officials refuse to amend the agreement. She predicted that her co-workers would refuse to approve the contract without what she described as the "salary catch-up" clause.

School officials were caught off-guard by the teachers' stance. They learned of the snag Monday afternoon from members of the teachers' union negotiating team.

School Supt. Albert D. Marley disputed Lee's claim that teachers had not ratified the pact. He said Lee herself wrote him that they had.

"I feel sufficiently confident there is an agreement, based on the vote that was taken and the letter that came to me over her signature," Marley said. "As I view it, there's no problem."

He said the pay question was brought up by the teachers' group, but not during negotiations. The language in the letter to be laid before the school board was suggested by the union's representative, he said.

Steps Already Taken

He said that, based on Lee's written assurance that the contract dispute had been settled, school officials had taken steps to include the raises in paychecks to be issued April 1. The raises include a 3% cost-of-living increase and 4.7% in payments for state-mandated increases in classroom instruction time.

Those payments will average about $200 per teacher per month, said Luellen Leyua, the district's payroll accountant. About $1,000 for each teacher in back pay from September will come later, she said.

Donald Zimring, the district's administrative assistant, said officials were uncertain what effect a union ratification revocation would have on next week's payroll, because checks are prepared for the district by the County of Los Angeles. County officials could not be reached for comment.

The contract snag also took some teachers by surprise.

"It's deplorable," said Jeanette Derry, a Calabasas High School English teacher. In reference to the district officials, she said, "We can't rely on gentlemen's agreements with them. Their past performance speaks for itself. We've seen it happen before."

Steve Sadaro, who teaches economics, psychology and social studies at the high school, said teachers will not be able to rule out the possibility of a strike this semester if the district does not add the salary catch-up clause to the contract. A nine-day Las Virgenes teachers' strike in June, 1979, caused chaos at the end of that school year.

"The district reduces our options, the longer we drag on with this in the school year," Sadaro said.

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