Support Arcadia Teachers in Pay Dispute : Students Take Day Off in Protest

Times Staff Writer

To demonstrate their support for teachers who are demanding higher wages, most of Arcadia High School's 2,100 students put in a good three hours of an all-day protest Tuesday before giving way to adolescent urges for a day off.

What started as a serious show of support for teachers, who are locked in a wage dispute with the Arcadia Unified School District, resulted in a near-empty campus long before the school day ended. Attendance was back to normal Wednesday.

The student-led rally began at 8 a.m., when most of the students refused to attend class. Instead, they massed on the school's front lawn, where they shouted cheers and raised a couple of banners. Television crews and other news media representatives appeared, as did dozens of district administrators who were called in to monitor the milling throng.

But by 11 a.m., only small clusters of youngsters remained, most of them sprawling in the sun, as others strolled down streets patrolled by police with walkie-talkies. Some announced that they were headed for the beach.

"This is not a ditch day," insisted Tim Tyree, a senior who said he helped organize the protest. "We don't want them out roaming the streets. We organized ourselves to help teachers."

David Morgan, a senior who several days earlier had distributed flyers urging students to take part in the protest, said the refusal to attend class will hurt the district financially, since the state pays schools based on student attendance.

"They're losing money, but if we're on campus they have to listen to us," he said.

Supt. Stephen A. Goldstone said he had heard "some rumblings of protest" in advance of the demonstration but called the students' reasoning "very unfortunate."

"Students need to be in school," Goldstone said. "If they're truant without a legitimate excuse, that only hurts the situation by giving us less money to work with."

Susan Ridgeway, spokeswoman for the Arcadia Teachers Assn., said the student protest was "entirely grass-roots. They are doing this on behalf of us."

Ridgeway said that after 11 months of negotiating a new contract, teachers are willing to accept recommendations from a fact-finder who was called in to mediate the dispute.

The fact-finder has recommended that teachers get a 4.4% raise, retroactive to July, 1987, in a three-year contract that would be reopened for salary and benefit negotiations each year.

Goldstone said the district opposes reopening the contract every year. It is proposing a salary and benefit increase of 9% for one year to begin on June 1, with no back pay. The second year of the contract, beginning in June, 1989, would include a 5% salary and 5% benefit increase. The third year of the contract would remain open, pending the state's cost-of-living adjustment in 1990.

On Wednesday, teachers picketed at all of the district's 10 schools before classes started. Arcadia Teacher Assn. spokeswoman Kelly Horner said almost all of the 310 teachers participated and then returned to their classrooms.

Arcadia police Capt. David Hinig said police were called out Tuesday "just to monitor the situation. It's not our job to keep them off the streets." He said students had been blocking traffic on Campus Drive, which runs in front of the school, but moved when they were asked.

About 400 students attended classes Tuesday. Many said they wanted teachers to have higher pay but opposed the boycott of classes.

"We don't think this is the right thing to do," said Kevin Tseng, a sophomore from Taiwan who spoke for others among a handful of students attending a modern poetry class.

"This would never happen in Taiwan. We have a different culture, and we don't think in terms of protest," Tseng said.

"I think most of the kids out there are blowing things way out of proportion," said Jack Lin, another student from Taiwan.

Sophomore Vanessa Moore said she was in class "because I don't want a truancy on my record." Tim Mancinelli said his parents had refused to write a note excusing him. "That's why I'm here," he said.

"I'm just opening the doors for anyone who wants to come in," said Alan Brinn, who teaches the poetry class, in which 34 students are enrolled. Only seven students showed up Tuesday.

Brinn and several students said that although many students are concerned about teacher pay, "a lot are just enjoying themselves."

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