Teachers See Tax Windfall as Way of Avoiding Strike

Times Education Writer

The head of United Teachers-Los Angeles said Friday that an unexpected state income tax windfall might provide the Los Angeles Unified School District with enough extra money to avert a May 30 teachers' strike, but Board of Education members cautiously avoided making such an optimistic prediction.

The district could receive an estimated $33 million of a $660-million state surplus that was projected Thursday by the Franchise Tax Board.

An additional $33 million would provide more than enough money to raise the district offer of an 8% raise this year to 10%. Union President Wayne Johnson said Friday that upping this year's figure to 10%, as well as concessions from the board on certain non-monetary issues, could be enough to head off a strike.

"I'm real hopeful that this new money might provide the avenue for settlement," he said. "It's good news, and it may provide the window of opportunity we need."

But board members and other district officials on Friday said that it is far from certain how much of the surplus money the district might receive and whether the money would arrive in time to affect contract negotiations, which have been deadlocked for months.

Board member Jackie Goldberg said it is "possible but unlikely" that a board majority could support a 10% teacher raise this year. It is more likely, she said, that the board will stick to its original plan to use surplus money to increase the 4% raise offered on next year's salary, she said.

The district has offered teachers a 20% raise over three years--8% this year, 4% next year and 8% in 1991. The offer provides a formula for an 8% increase the second year if new money, such as from a state tax surplus, becomes available.

The union has asked for a 21% pay increase over two years, beginning with 11% in the current school year.

Also at issue are proposals outlining the composition of new school governing councils, the elimination of yard duty for elementary teachers and giving elementary instructors a preparation period.

Associate Supt. Ronald Prescott, who oversees governmental relations for the district, said the exact amount of surplus funds due the district and when the money might become available depend on deliberations in Sacramento concerning the implementation of Proposition 98--the initiative voters approved last November that guarantees public schools 40% of any surplus state revenues--and the so-called Gann limit on state expenditures. He said the Legislature and the governor also could decide to place restrictions on how schools can spend the extra dollars.

Those questions might not be decided before the teacher union's May 29 deadline for settlement of the contract dispute, Prescott said.

Board member Julie Korenstein said, "I would certainly like to see if we can find way to use that money to avert a strike. But I couldn't begin to guess how the board will view this."

'Debatable Issue'

Board President Roberta Weintraub said the extra money "translates into a (higher) salary raise. Or it translates into not making budget cuts. . . . It's going to be a really debatable issue."

For the last several weeks, the board has been reviewing $80 million in proposed budget reductions that district administrators say are needed in order to pay for a 20% salary raise over three years. The board is split 4 to 3 on the district's wage offer, with three members--Rita Walters, Alan Gershman and Leticia Quezada--largely opposed to making severe cuts in other areas to pay for the higher teacher salaries.

"I'm not optimistic yet," Gershman said. "When the (district's) chief financial officer tells me the money is in the bank and that it's ongoing (money), then the possibilities open up. But that isn't the message I have at this hour."

The board expects to discuss the possible uses of the surplus state money in a closed meeting Monday.

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