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Teachers’ Union Warns It Will Withhold Grades

Times Education Writer

In an effort to keep the pressure on the Los Angeles Unified School District to accept their contract demands, teachers will not file mid-term grades, due April 7, with district offices, United Teachers-Los Angeles President Wayne Johnson said Thursday.

If the district responds, as it did last semester, by threatening to withhold teachers’ pay, Johnson said teachers will strike on May 1 instead of at the end of the school year in June.

“Withholding grades from the district puts the pressure on,” Johnson said. “It means if we do want to take action at the end of year it will be very effective.”

Associate Supt. Gabriel Cortina said Thursday that the district is not considering withholding teachers’ paychecks, as it threatened last month when teachers attempted to hold back final semester grades. But he said the district will deduct from their checks if they fail to report mid-term grades.

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“We have maintained that if teachers do not perform the assignment of preparing the report cards, they will be docked,” he said.

On Feb. 7, teachers voted in their schools by nearly a 9-1 margin to authorize strike preparations. A second strike vote has been scheduled for April 19.

Union leaders decided to continue the grade boycott this term to counter what Johnson said is a district plan to undermine a June teachers’ strike.

“We got it on pretty good authority that the district is planning to close schools for the last two weeks (of the school year) and issue 10-week grades as the final grades,” Johnson said. “We understand that they worked this out with the state Department of Education and (Supt. of Public Instruction) Bill Honig. . . . So the only way to cover ourselves is not to give them the 10-week grades.”

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However, both Honig and Cortina on Thursday denied that such discussions have taken place.

“Categorically denied. Untrue,” Cortina said.

Said Honig: “Nobody’s talked to me about it. And there’s no way they (district) could do that. It would cost them a fortune.”

Johnson said students will not suffer any negative consequences if teachers do not provide the district with mid-term grade information. Teachers will send grades home with students on a report card supplied by the union. Teachers normally fill in a computer grade form for district offices as well. Teachers say filling out the form is a time-consuming clerical task that most complete during non-paid, after-school hours.

After a year at the bargaining table, negotiations over a new contract for the district’s 32,000 teachers are deadlocked over pay. The district has offered teachers a 20% pay increase over three years, while the union has demanded 21% over two years.

Several Key Issues

The two sides also cannot agree on several key issues concerning teachers’ professional rights, such as giving elementary teachers a preparation period during the school day and expanding the authority of teachers at all campuses to make decisions about how their schools should be run.

Within a few weeks, both sides say they expect to enter a new phase of negotiations called fact-finding, in which a neutral panel including district and union representatives weighs union demands against district finances and policies. It is the last step that must be completed before the union legally can strike.

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In protest over what they consider an unsatisfactory offer, teachers have boycotted faculty meetings, parent conferences and yard duty, in addition to refusing to report students’ grades to the district.

Johnson estimated that 90% of the district’s 32,000 teachers joined in the mid-term grade boycott last semester and that they were docked $400 to $500 each.

Wave of Walkouts

Teachers attempted to withhold from the district copies of semester grades--which sparked a wave of student walkouts at high schools throughout the district--but were rebuffed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Honig, who has urged teachers to accept the district’s last offer, also was critical of the union’s tactics.

“My problem with these confrontational negotiations is that kids pay the price for it,” he said. “You’ve got to have cooperation among teachers and administrators at the site level if schools are going to work. But instead of catching up, (Los Angeles district schools) are getting worse. . . . This prolonged negotiation is taking its toll.”


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