Despite strong encouragement from teachers to mind his own business, California Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig on Tuesday waded into the middle of the Los Angeles school district labor crisis by calling on classroom instructors to accept the district's latest pay offer.
Honig said the 20% to 24% pay increase over three years now being offered by the school board, including an 8% raise for the current school year, is considerably larger than recent and expected increases in state funding, and more than teachers in most other districts in the state have been given.
"That's a huge, huge settlement," Honig said in a telephone interview from Sacramento, adding that teachers in most districts in the state have settled for about 5% this year. With this year's 4.1% cost-of-living increase in state funding for schools and next year's proposed maximum increase of 5%, Honig said he is concerned about "what this (new offer) does to the district. I think they are taking a risk doing it."
Noting that the teachers are expected to vote soon to authorize a strike, Honig said, "I do not understand why this is still going on if the district made that substantial an offer. . . . They are on a path to disaster in that district unless somebody does something."
Second Call for Settlement
Honig has no direct role in the dispute in the Los Angeles district. But Tuesday was the second time in a week that he has used his pulpit as the state's highest elected education official to demand an end to the yearlong contract fight.
Honig, who has pushed for increased funding of schools and educational reforms, said the turmoil in Los Angeles is of statewide concern because the district is so large--600,000 students, or nearly 15% of the state's total enrollment.
Tuesday's comments were Honig's strongest yet and aligned him with the school board, which insists that more than $100 million in cuts in such things as computers and library aides will be required to pay for the offer.
Teacher union officials have attacked Honig's effort to invite himself into the fight.
"Bill Honig knows about as much about the Los Angeles Unified School District budget as I do about nuclear physics," Wayne Johnson, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said last week. He had urged Honig to "stay in Sacramento and butt out of things that don't concern you."
Responding Tuesday to Honig's description of the Los Angeles board's offer as "more than fair" and above what other districts have given, Johnson said, "He simply doesn't know what he's talking about."
Inola Henry, a union spokeswoman, said that teachers in some other districts have received larger pay increases in past years and that some Los Angeles teachers are leaving for those neighboring school systems. Los Angeles teachers earn an average of about $36,000 and, as of last year, the top of their salary schedule ranked 10th among Los Angeles County's 82 school districts.
Henry added that the union has analyzed the district's $3.5-billion budget and believes higher priority should be given to classroom instruction and teachers. The union cites as excessive the salaries of hundreds of administrators who earn $50,000 to $100,000 per year, and has attacked the district's practice of providing cars for top administrators.
Johnson told reporters last week that the district spends more money to purchase and maintain cars for administrators than on dropout prevention programs. District officials, who said that cars are provided for 54 top administrators, categorically denied Johnson's statement.
Honig said the Los Angeles district should trim administrative spending, but he said even large cuts in those areas are not likely to provide the kind of money needed for the salary increases sought by teachers.
Honig said it appears the real issue is not money. "I think it's about power," he said. Indeed, after pay, a central issue has been how to give neighborhood schools more control over their own spending, curriculum and personnel. This is an outgrowth of a series of school reform studies that conclude that the best-performing schools are those where decision-making is close to the classroom.
But the two sides have been unable to agree on how it should work. Teachers want a majority of voting positions on new local school councils. Supt. Leonard Britton and the school board want principals to have final veto authority over the councils' actions.
Meanwhile, protests continued Tuesday at two more high schools--Narbonne in Harbor City and Pacific Palisades--with several hundred students taking part. It was the latest in a wave of walkouts in support of teacher pay demands and against the teachers' pressure tactic of withholding of midyear grades from the district.
Teacher representatives are expected authorize a strike vote tonight. The union cannot legally strike until spring, but Johnson has warned that walkouts might nonetheless occur next month if Britton follows through on a threat to withhold the paychecks of the more than 70% of the teachers who joined the grade boycott.
Staff writer Noel Wilson in Sacramento contributed to this story.
TEACHER SALARIES IN OTHER CITIES Here is how salary increases this year for teachers in some of the larger school districts in the state compare with the Los Angeles district offer. Requirements to reach top of teacher salary scale vary, although most require advanced degrees and 15 to 24 years of service.
CITY 1988-89 1989-90
SAN 5.1%; salary scale: $24,260 To be negotiated FRANCISCO to $42, 420
SAN DIEGO 6%; salary scale: $21,031 Four-year contract through to $43,252 1991-92 with future pay increases equal to cost-of-living increases provided schools by the state
FRESNO 5% guaranteed; 1% To be negotiated additional if more state funds available; salary scale: $22,255 to $38,285
LONG BEACH 4% increase plus 3% Three-year contract lump-sum bonus at end of through 1990-91 with school year; salary scale: salary increases each year $23,423 to $47,327 of 90% of the state's cost-of-living increase, plus 3% lump-sum bonus
SANTA 5%; salary scale: $22,470 To be negotiated MONICA to $47,408
LOS ANGELES Teachers asking 11%; Teachers asking 10%; district offering 8%; salary district offering 4% scale with district offer: guarantee, as much as 8% $23,423 to $47,327 if more state funds available. Teachers do not want three-year agreement
Source: Times survey of districts