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Orange Unified Strike Halted : Tentative Contract Sends Teachers Back to Work

Times Staff Writer

Orange Unified School District teachers were back in class Monday under a tentative agreement offering a two-year pay increase and no punishment for strikers.

Teachers received a one-time 3% bonus payment for the current school year and a 6.3% pay increase for next year after a marathon weekend negotiating session apparently ended the seven-day strike.

The agreement was a compromise for the union, which made a key concession by dropping a demand for a retroactive pay raise for the current year, said Wilma Wittman, the negotiator for the teachers’ union.

The union had insisted that any pay increase for the current school year become part of the base salary

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Some students and teachers said things were back to normal Monday. Part II, Page 8.

to which future increases would be added. Instead, it accepted a one-time bonus payment which will not carry over. The district, however, agreed to increase the amount of the payment by a half percent.

The two-year contract capped nearly 15 months of negotiations between teachers and the district, with critical issues centering on the amount of wage hikes for the current school year and terms of a health benefits package. The teachers’ last contract expired on June 30, 1987.

The strike against the 24,500-student school district--third largest in the county and including the cities of Orange, Villa Park and parts of Garden Grove, Santa Ana and Anaheim--had in recent days generated bitter condemnations from parents who alleged that teachers had encouraged students to skip classes. The union denied the allegations.

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One of the most controversial of the contract provisions, reached early Monday morning after more than eight hours of negotiations, stipulates that the district will not seek reprisals against striking teachers.

But several parents have already indicated that they will ask the board of education, which must approve the settlement, to reject the so-called no-reprisals clause.

Must Be Ratified

Mark Rona, president of the Orange Unified Education Assn., said union negotiators were satisfied with the pact, which still must be ratified by the general membership.

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“We’ve gotten everything we possibly could under the conditions that prevail,” Rona said. “We’ll recommend that our people ratify the agreement, and I don’t think there will be any problem with it. Right now, we’re just glad it’s over.”

Jack Elsner, the school district’s administrator for personnel services, said the settlement amounted to a “repackaging” of the district’s previous offer. The total settlement will cost the district slightly more than $5 million over the two-year contract, which expires in June, 1989.

“It’s the same amount of money offered before the walkout, but we’ve worked on language and other issues to negotiate the agreement,” Elsner said. “We are still within the overall parameters of what the school board set.”

Under the settlement, teachers will receive a one-time 3% pay increase for the current school year, an increase of half a percent over the district’s previous offer. Additional money for the increase will come from funds allocated for the health-and-welfare-benefits package which were not needed, Elsner said.

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New Pay Settlement

Under a new salary schedule that will take effect on July 1, teachers will receive an average raise of 6.3% for the 1988-89 school year. Previous district offers had sought to make the raise contingent on a 4.1% state cost-of-living adjustment.

The agreement also allows for an additional .6% pay increase after Feb. 1, 1989, but only if state funding results in district reserves of more than $659,000. In addition, if state legislation results in new funding, the two sides have agreed on additional negotiations to assess where the money would best be utilized.

Other provisions call for the district to pay current-year premiums for health benefits and for creation of a joint committee of administrators and teachers to study how junior high schools might be restructured.

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Overall, by the end of the new contract, beginning teachers can expect to earn about $22,300, a 1% increase over the previous contract. The most experienced teachers--those with 20 years of experience plus a master’s degree--will now make more than $44,000, nearly a 10% increase.

District officials had insisted that there was no available money in the district’s $93-million budget to meet teacher pay demands. There is also the possibility that an expected shortfall in next year’s state budget would mean fewer dollars for the school district.

Amnesty Issue

The two sides spent hours coming to agreement over the issue of amnesty for striking teachers. The final agreement provides that neither side will seek reprisals over the strike but offers no general amnesty. Striking teachers will not be paid for the days they were out and complaints about teacher conduct will be sent to a state mediator, whose decision will be binding.

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Both sides said the plan offers protection for teachers and parents.

“Obviously, there are some parents with some very strong feelings, and they have to have an avenue to show their concerns,” Elsner said.

But some parents said they are not satisfied with the agreement. A small group of angry parents on Monday presented a formal complaint to the district, alleging that the teachers had staged an illegal strike.

The complaint charged that the Orange Unified Education Assn. and its president, Rona, deprived children of their constitutional right to a free education, encouraged students to be truant or walk out of classes during picketing and endangered the safety of children by allowing them to walk picket lines.

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“What would have happened if something had happened to one of the kids while they were off the school grounds--who would have been responsible?” said Adele Graves, a parent who has initiated several protests denouncing the strike. “I have talked to nearly 100 parents, and many are afraid to come forward with complaints because they fear retaliation against their kids. We are asking the school board to take legal action against the union for staging an illegal strike.”

No Reprisals--Barrios

However, Russell Barrios, president of the seven-member school board, said the district is “not interested in seeking reprisals” at this time and called the state mediator plan the best solution for parents and teachers, because it allows the district to “move on with the work that needs to be done.”

Barrios said one unresolved issue is any action against students who left classes in support of striking teachers. During the strike, roughly 40% of high school students missed one or more classes, according to district figures.

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“A lot will depend on whether they were back Monday and whether they have a note from parents--what their reasoning was,” Barrios said. “There are a lot of factors which we will probably discuss Thursday (at the scheduled board meeting). It just hasn’t been resolved yet.”


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