80% of Teachers Strike in Anaheim's District : Nearly Half of Their Students Also Boycott High School Classes

Times Staff Writers

Anaheim Union High School District teachers declared their 1-day strike a success after nearly 80% of the district's 900 instructors walked out and almost half of the students skipped classes Wednesday, crippling intermediate and secondary schools from Anaheim to Cypress.

The strike, the first ever for members of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Assn., forced the district to dispatch about 600 substitute teachers to its 21 campuses, where at least 655 regularly assigned teachers failed to appear. District administrators said 46% of the district's 22,000 students did not come to school. But students and teachers on the picket lines and at a noon rally reported that attendance dwindled even more than that as the day went on.

"This is the first time we've ever had a strike, and you have an overwhelming participation," said Leonard Lahtinen, president of the teachers union, which has been without a contract since August. "It should send a message to the district."

While a district spokesman assured parents that students were being properly supervised, administrators agreed that the strike over stalled salary negotiations had created significant inconveniences to the financially troubled district, which includes most of Anaheim, as well as Cypress and La Palma.

"We think we're coping well," Assistant Supt. LeRoy Kellogg said Wednesday. "With the substitutes we were able to obtain, we were well prepared for the emergency today."

But he added: "Any strike is a setback. There is no winner."

School board members, who have maintained a low profile during protracted talks, could not be reached for comment to discuss their views on the strike, which was staged on the statewide Day of the Teacher. And Supt. Cynthia F. Grennan has preferred to let Kellogg speak for the district.

Administrators said they could not immediately estimate the cost of the strike in lost student attendance money or extra salaries for substitutes. But if all 9,104 students who were marked as truant Wednesday are eventually counted as unexcused absences, it could mean a loss of about $18 a day in per-student money from the state, or $163,872.

Teachers said they would continue the pressure on the district by attending a board meeting tonight, when trustees are to receive a budget report from staff officials.

The Anaheim strike occurred nearly a year after a 7-day walkout of Orange Unified School District teachers in a dispute over higher pay. In October, 1985, 410 teachers in the Tustin Unified School District staged a 6-day strike during a pay dispute.

Teachers on the picket lines Wednesday said such a scene would have been unimaginable at Anaheim schools 5 years ago. But mounting widespread frustration with the district's negotiating tactics has united "probably the most non-militant people in Orange County, if not all of Southern California," said Ed Craig, a band teacher at Orangeview Junior High School in Anaheim.

In preparation for the strike, district officials had posted uniformed security guards at each campus, many carrying walkie-talkies. They required teachers to turn in their keys and attendance books and tried to prevent students from leaving campuses once they had arrived.

But throughout the day, students strolled off campuses, some showing their support with homemade banners and horn-honking. Dozens of students attended a noon teacher rally at Pearson Park in downtown Anaheim.

Before a lunch of cold-cut sandwiches and red apples, striking teachers sang their own version of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line": "But for my kids, I'd work round the clock/Because they're mine, I walk the line."

At Western High School in Anaheim, 200 students walked off campus during second period, some of them carrying signs supporting the teacher strike. "They'll probably suspend us, but they can't suspend everybody," said Ginny Hard, a 16-year-old junior.

At Anaheim High School, students distributed a flyer that read: "Support Your Teachers on Wednesday--Ditch."

Many did just that.

"There was nothing happening at school, so we left," said Susie Meehan, a junior at Anaheim High School. "The subs (substitute teachers) are lost."

One of the hardest-hit schools was Cypress High School, where just six of the usual 56 teachers appeared for work, district officials reported. Just 431 of 1,400 students were on campus for first-period roll call; by 11:15 a.m., about half of those had departed.

The mood on the teachers' picket lines was buoyant, as teachers reveled in the strike turnout. About 82% of teachers belonging to the association had voted to strike for 1 day after pay talks reached an impasse.

"No one really likes doing it," Phil Bertoni, a math and computer science teacher at Kennedy High School in La Palma, said about striking.

"We're losing our pay, we're losing our dignity, but we would lose our dignity even more to not go out on strike."

Teachers said that this year's offer could amount to a 1% pay raise and that they do not quarrel with that. The real battle is over next year's salary provisions: Teachers are demanding a 3.2% increase, equal to the state's projected inflation rate, plus part of the surplus after a 3% reserve is set aside.

District officials, who say shrinking enrollment and rising costs have led to budget deficits, do not want to guarantee any increase. Since the early 1970s, the district has lost about 41% of its student population.

Despite tensions and complex preparations, the day went by mostly without incident. At Cypress High, however, a substitute teacher almost ran into a picketing striking teacher as he drove into the parking lot, and the two began shouting at each other, Lahtinen and Kellogg said.

Lahtinen said the substitute shouted something about pulling out a shotgun, but the incident did not go beyond an exchange of words.

Several teachers expressed irritation that the district argues it cannot afford to guarantee pay increases yet on Wednesday was paying substitutes teachers at 2 1/2 times the usual rate: $180 a day instead of $70. The district also spent money to hire security guards and extra buses.

"They don't have money for teachers, yet they hire security and outside buses," said Jim Ferris, speech and physical education teacher at Orangeview Junior High School in Anaheim. "They treat us like we're a security risk out here."

But Assistant Supt. Kellogg said the substitutes' pay was raised because "we wanted to make sure we had adequate coverage."

The costs for the day, he said, will be paid from the money that will not be paid to the striking teachers, who are being docked an average $208 for the unworked day.

Staff writers Steve Emmons and Kimberly L. Jackson contributed to this article.

STRIKE AT A GLANCE Anaheim Union High School District: Number of schools: 21 Enrolled students: 22,000 Percent of students absent Wednesday: 41% Normal student absentee rate: 2% Total teachers: 900 Percent of teachers on strike: *73% Average daily attendance dollars per student: $18 Percent of student decline from 1973-74: 41% * The teachers union claims that 79.% observed the strike.

Source: District reports

DAY OFF FOR STUDENTS--Absent teachers meant absent students. Part II, Page 1.

A TOUGH DECISION--Some teachers agonized over the walkout. Part II, Page 1.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World