Roughly half of the teachers at Dominguez High School in Compton called in sick Friday in what district sources called a one-day job action that took even union leaders by surprise.
"I can't second-guess why the teachers were absent," said Elisa L. Sanchez, acting superintendent of the Compton Unified School District. "Obviously, there needs to be a review with the teachers. If there are some communication problems, we need to get them resolved."
District administrators and substitutes were rushed to the school early Friday morning after 32 of the school's 65 classroom teachers began calling in sick, Sanchez said. By mid-afternoon, she said, almost all of the absent teachers had called in to say they would be back Monday.
Wiley Jones, executive director of the Compton Education Assn., which represents the district's approximately 1,000 teachers, said the union did not know about the sick-in until it started. Jones said he tried without success to get school officials to tell him which teachers called in sick.
None of the absentee teachers were available for comment.
Although district officials would not say outright that the teachers were lying about their illnesses, it was clear that they were treating it as a job action. And one district source who asked not to be identified said the sick-in was a labor tactic.
The teachers union and the school board are at odds over a contract that expired at the end of last school year, leaving teachers without raises during the current school year. Contract negotiations were suspended last fall when the district asked for a state fact-finder. Friday's action, however, was confined to Dominguez, one of three high schools in the district.
Dominguez was the scene of a student walkout last October after pupils became angry that Principal Ernie Roy had suspended the popular dean of students.
Roy declined to answer specific questions about the sick-in Friday except to point out that the campus was calm and under control. "We could have a few more teachers out than we normally do," he said. "Things are running well, probably better than they ever have."
Compton and its teachers have had a rocky relationship for years. There was a long, bitter strike in 1986-87 known as a "rolling strike" because district officials never knew which day the teachers would start staying home again.
Last fall, district administrators scrambled right up to the opening day of school to find enough teachers after 154 resigned to take higher-paying jobs in Los Angeles, saying on the way out that low pay and poor working conditions were to blame for their defections.
Compton teachers are the lowest paid in the county, with a starting salary of just over $23,000, compared to $27,000 in Los Angeles. Maximum pay in Compton is $38,000, compared to $49,000 in Los Angeles, Jones said.
School board President Mary Henry said Friday, "I don't have the answers yet as to why they were absent."
School board member Kelvin Filer said it was his understanding that the sick-in was limited to Dominguez and that the teachers would be returning Monday. He declined to talk about the contract problems, saying the board was trying to resolve them as quickly as possible.