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Teachers OK Contract; Most Happy With Terms

Times Staff Writer

Teachers in the Orange Unified School District voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a new two-year contract, ending more than 15 months of negotiations that culminated in a seven-day strike.

Acceptance of the contract came on a voice vote of more than 600 of the district’s 1,100 teachers who met late in the afternoon in Anaheim.

The teachers erupted in loud cheers after the vote and most wore beaming smiles as they emerged from the meeting at the Grand Hotel.

Mark Rona, president of the Orange Unified Education Assn., said the teachers voiced no significant concerns about terms of the contract, which provides for a one-time payment of 3% for the current school year and a 6.3% salary increase next year. The teachers had been seeking a 3% increase in their base salary for the current school year, but compromised when the district agreed to increase the amount of the one-time payment from 2.54% to 3%.

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“I think I heard maybe one dissent in the room, so I feel great about the vote,” Rona said. “Now we have to wait and see what the school board does with it.”

Board Meets Tonight

The district board of trustees, which also must approve the contract, is scheduled to vote on the pact tonight.

Most teachers expressed relief that the contract dispute appeared to be over.

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“I feel real good about the contract and my support of it,” said Sharon Giannini, a fifth-grade teacher at Cambridge Elementary School in Orange. “I think we would not have gotten as much as we did without going out on strike. But I’m very happy to be back in the classroom.”

Barbara Boling, an Orange High School home economics teacher who has taught school for 30 years, said the decision to strike created a personal crisis:

“Your first inclination is to think, ‘What are we here for?’ The kids are so important to all of us and we love them. But on the other hand, I am a single person, close to retirement and I have to think about the years ahead.

“I think we got more than we thought we were going to get out of this. The (3% payment) will just about cover the seven days I was out of class. It was something I was concerned with.”

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Orange Unified is the third largest in school enrollment in the county, with about 24,500 students. The district includes the cities of Orange and Villa Park, and parts of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana.

Strikers Not Punished

Negotiators reached a tentative contract agreement early Monday morning after a marathon weekend session, and most striking teachers returned to work in time for classes that morning.

Among the last issues to be resolved were provisions stipulating that teachers would not be punished for participating in the strike.

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The so-called “no reprisals” clause has generated opposition from some parents in the district who contend that teachers staged an illegal strike. Several parents have said they will urge the board to reject that clause.

The final agreement provides that neither side will seek reprisals over the strike, but offers no general amnesty to striking teachers. Under the language accepted by teachers on Wednesday, complaints about teacher conduct would be sent to a state mediator whose decision would be binding.

Other contract terms call for the district to pay current-year premiums for health benefits and for the creation of a joint committee of administrators and teachers to study restructuring junior high school grade levels.

Dividing Lines Drawn

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The strike had generated angry reactions from some quarters in recent days, pitting students against parents and parents against teachers. Of particular concern were youths who cut classes and statements from picketing teachers that homework done for substitute teachers may not be accepted.

But many teachers reacted heatedly Wednesday to suggestions from some parents and district officials that teachers might punish students by rejecting any work done for substitutes during the strike.

“There will certainly be no retribution taken out on the students,” Rona said. “I think it will be up to the individual teachers to decide what work is acceptable and what work needs to be done. Our teachers are conscientious and caring, and we are glad to be back and to have the students back.”


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