A state mediator is expected to enter contract talks here this week in an effort to resolve an impasse between teachers and school trustees.
The teachers, who are among the lowest-paid in the South Bay, argue that the district will not be able to attract or keep high-quality instructors unless the trustees agree to a raise in pay.
The trustees, however, say the district cannot afford the teachers' demand for a 12% increase, citing declining enrollments and related budget cuts. They say the most they can afford is a 2% raise plus a one-time 3% bonus when the district receives its share of state lottery money. District officials originally offered a 1% increase when talks began in September.
According to National Education Assn. statistics, teachers in the state's approximately 1,000 districts received an average salary increase of 7.23% for the current school year, said Joe Van Pelt, president of the El Segundo teachers union.
Citing the NEA figures, El Segundo teachers rejected the district's second and final 2% offer in late December, prompting both sides to ask the state mediator to try to settle the dispute.
A spokesman for the state Public Employees Relations Board said a mediator is expected to begin talks with both sides this week. The teachers have been working under last year's contract pending resolution of the dispute.
Union officials hope the mediator will find that the district's $1.2 million reserve is large enough to support a higher salary increase than the 2% offered, but district officials say employee salaries already consume about 80% of the district's $7-million budget.
"I personally agree that they are due some extra money, but we don't have it and there is absolutely nothing we can cut back on," said school board President Allen West. "Our reserve is dangerously low, and our salary income from the state has remained the same, but the teachers keep getting salary increases and benefits." West noted that the teachers received a 6.73% raise in 1985.
Still, El Segundo instructors earn considerably less than those in neighboring districts. Top pay for an El Segundo teacher is $35,051, compared to $39,528 in the Manhattan Beach City School District, $38,644 in the Hawthorne School District, $37,035 in Inglewood, and $39,746 in Lennox. Almost half of El Segundo's 87 teachers are at the top of the district's pay scale.
"Young teachers will look us over to take better-paying jobs with school districts right next door to us," Van Pelt said.
In addition, he said, the El Segundo district is headed for a large staff turnover. The average teacher is age 49, Van Pelt said and "it won't be long before teachers start retiring left and right."
In the last school year, El Segundo's entry-level teachers were the lowest-paid in the South Bay. Although the district did raise the bottom end of the scale for 1986 to $20,230 thanks to a new state program that paid for the increases, El Segundo salaries still generally lag behind other South Bay districts.
"It's a shame when you look back 15 years and realize that El Segundo teachers used to be the second-highest-paid teachers in the county behind Beverly Hills," Van Pelt said.
In that same period, the district enrollment dropped from 3,000 to 1,500, district officials said. State aid is based on enrollment.
"I understand the budget cuts and all that, but how can we provide a good education if we keep slipping to the bottom of the salary heap?" Van Pelt said.
Though El Segundo's salaries are low compared to other South Bay districts, they are in the top 30% statewide.
"When you compare us to the South Bay, we don't fare too well, but when you compare us to the state we don't look so bad," West said.
Both sides hope to resolve the dispute before the district's annual back-to-school-night for parents in April.
SOUTH BAY TEACHER SALARIES
District Entry Pay* Maximum Centinela Valley Union $17,428 $35,375 El Segundo Unified 20,230 35,051 Hawthorne 20,265 38,644 Hermosa Beach 21,780 36,623 Lawndale 20,265 38,353 Lennox 20,827 39,746 L.A. Unified** 20,298 37,679 Inglewood*** 18,836 37,035 Manhattan Beach 16,987 39,528 Palos Verdes Unified 20,265 34,554 Redondo Beach 20,265 35,200 South Bay Union 20,035 41,702 Torrance Unified 20,206 37,340 Wiseburn 19,806 36,610
* For a teacher with no experience and a bachelor's degree. ** Proposal to be decided by school board Jan. 27. *** Not including 4% increase to take effect in February. Source: individual school districts.