Beverly Hills Contract Stalemate : Teachers Expected to Boycott Meeting

Times Staff Writer

Beverly Hills teachers are expected to boycott today's meeting scheduled by the Beverly Hills Unified School District to explain why contract negotiations with the teachers union are at a standstill.

Today's session at Beverly Vista Elementary School is the fifth in a series but Kenneth Eaves, president of the 320-member Beverly Hills Education Assn., said few teachers attended the first four meetings. "They want to split the unity of the troops, but this is certainly the wrong time to do that," he said.

The boycott is the latest round in the escalating struggle between the district and the teachers union. Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30.

Stalled Since August

Talks between school officials and union leaders have been stalled since August when, despite the intervention of a state mediator, both sides failed to reach an agreement on the main issues of classroom teaching time and salary. Negotiations were called off and since then, each side has accused the other of being inflexible.

Assistant Supt. Walther Puffer said the boycott of the voluntary meetings "smacks of censorship of the worst kind."

"There has never been a greater need for open dialogue and honest two-way communication between teachers and administration," Puffer said. "We feel the teachers have the right to ask questions about any issue that has been discussed at the bargaining table. In the search for truth it is important for everyone to hear both sides of the story."

Both sides agreed last month to enlist the help of a fact finder or neutral party to help resolve their differences. However, no date has been set for the resumption of negotiations.

School officials said the district will not return to the bargaining table until the teachers are willing to make concessions.

Union leaders are threatening to extend their protest if the district refuses to negotiate. Eaves said that teachers will be asked to refuse all work that is not required under the contract.

The main areas of disagreement have been over teacher hours and salary. Teachers have rejected a district proposal to increase classroom teaching time from 40 to 50 minutes per period. Teachers at University, Hamilton and Palisades High schools teach 56-minute classes, Puffer said.

Union officials also have argued that if teachers are required to spend more time in the classroom, they should be compensated for it.

The district has claimed that a large salary increase would present a financial hardship.

Puffer said the top of the pay scale for a Beverly Hills teacher is $39,000, one of the highest in the county.

Sides Disagree on Minor Issues

The two sides also disagree on a number of minor issues, including leaves of absence, the length of time parents are allowed to wait before complaining about a teacher's behavior and a proposal to increase class sizes.

School officials and union leaders see no immediate end to the deadlock.

Union spokesman Jacques Bernier said teachers are waiting for the district to respond to their request to resume negotiations without preconditions. Bernier said the union has suggested that both sides simultaneously exchange compromises as a way to begin. "We are still waiting for their response," he said.

Puffer said the district "will go back to the table when we get a responsible offer to bargain regarding hours and salary."

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