Lynwood Schools May Try to Block Teachers' Exodus

Times Staff Writers

In an effort to halt an exodus of teachers, school officials have warned that they may try to prevent departing teachers from getting jobs with other school districts.

The Lynwood Unified School District board voted to give school officials the option of asking the state to suspend credentials of teachers who resigned after June 30. School officials would be invoking a little-used state law prohibiting teachers from resigning without giving school officials sufficient notice.

District Supt. LaVoneia Steele said she recommended the action to the school board to "protect the children of Lynwood" from teacher shortages that have become particularly severe this year.

The board's decision has raised an outcry from Lynwood Teachers Assn. officials, who contend that teachers are being forced into "involuntary servitude."

Link to L.A. Strike

In past years, teachers have come and gone without raising concern. But after the Los Angeles Unified School District raised salaries following a teachers strike last May, Lynwood officials braced for a mass exodus. Lynwood teachers earn from $21,953 a year at entry level to $44,051. Los Angeles Unified teachers' earn from $27,000 to $49,000.

Steele said she isn't sure how many teachers have quit, but union officials say that 75 to 100 of the district's approximately 650 teachers may have resigned since June 30.

So far, Steele said, administrators are trying other alternatives to encourage those teachers to return to the district without asking for a suspension. She declined to describe those alternatives, but she said the district reserves the option of asking the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to suspend departing teachers.

'Still Looking for People'

"In this instance, every parent wants a teacher who greets that child on the opening day and stays with the child all year," she said, adding, "we are still looking for people."

With classes due to start Monday, the district had 23 teaching openings, with bilingual and special education teachers in greatest demand. The district has about 13,800 students enrolled in nine elementary schools, two junior high schools and a single high school.

Tom Rose, a spokesman for the state credentialing board, said it would be unusual for a school district to seek sanctions against a teacher for leaving. "To the best of my knowledge, it's not a common occurrence at all," he said. "It hasn't been done in the past five years I've been here."

The union, however, is taking the threat seriously.

Paul DeNard, a veteran English teacher at Hosler Junior High School and past president of the Lynwood Teachers Assn., said the union will vigorously oppose any action against a teacher trying to leave the district.

Must Show Just Cause

The state law, he notes, prevents a teacher from leaving after June 30 without just cause. But the Lynwood district's salaries are so deficient and working conditions are so poor, DeNard charged, that teachers have ample justification for leaving.

Teachers have gone without a contract for two years. The district is plagued by overcrowding and gang infestation, said DeNard, a member of the teachers' negotiating team.

State education officials recently fined the school district for consistently allowing overcrowded classes. State officials found that the district allowed students from different grades to be placed in the same classes, rather than hiring additional teachers or substitutes.

Glenn Rothner, a private attorney who works with the California Teachers Assn. and has counseled several departing Lynwood teachers, said the district failed to send specially delivered inquiries asking teachers about their plans for the coming school year. As a result, he said, he does not believe the district can seek suspension of teaching credentials.

"The (district) is trying to make these teachers scapegoats for bad working conditions, a bad environment, low salaries and an inability to come to terms with a contract," Rothner said.

Ara Prigian, a representative for the California Teachers Assn., said he does not believe Lynwood teachers were given adequate time to decide whether they wanted to teach the coming year. He noted that the past school year ended only days before the June 30 deadline for making the decision.

"We feel people should be able to come and go, if done within a reasonable period of time," he said.

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