Teachers Staged Illegal Sickout, District Says

Forty-nine of 61 teachers at Santa Paula High School stayed home Thursday in what district officials said was an illegal sickout to protest stalled contract negotiations.

Seven of those absent had legitimate excuses, said Robert Villa, assistant superintendent of the Santa Paula Union High School District. The others may be charged with unfair labor practices before the Public Employees Review Board, he said.

A representative of the Santa Paula chapter of the American Federation of Teachers said the alleged sickout was not authorized by the union, although he added that the absences did reflect the teachers' growing frustration.

"Many were, indeed, sick that day," said Ed Arguelles, a government teacher at Santa Paula High and vice president of the union. "They were just sick of the way they've been treated."

Teachers, who began morning picketing in front of the school about a month ago, are asking for a 14% salary raise, retroactive to February. The district is offering a 5% hike plus a one-time 2% bonus.

An independent fact-finder will be sought in the next several weeks to help resolve the dispute.

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