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Teachers Ask How Broke the District Is

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Teachers’ contract negotiations have gone on for more than seven months in Torrance, with one question dominating the talks: Can the Torrance Unified School District afford to give its teachers more than a 1% raise?

Teachers asked for an 8% increase. District officials have responded that in the face of ongoing budget problems, they cannot afford more than 1%, with perhaps another 1% if the district gets additional state funds.

“We’ve got an offer on the table based on the money we’ve got,” said David Sargent, who became school board president this month.

A negotiating session was held Wednesday afternoon, and the next one is scheduled Jan. 14.

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The school system’s teachers and other professionals represented by the Torrance Teachers Assn., who have worked at the district’s 27 schools without a contract since June 30, wonder if more money can be found. Moreover, teachers say, budget cuts have worsened job conditions and hurt morale.

William A. Franchini, executive director of the teachers’ union, said “significant progress” was made Wednesday at a 2 1/2-hour session. He has called this the most difficult contract negotiations he can remember. The first bargaining session was held May 2, he said.

The union and the district have been at odds not only about salary but also over health and retirement benefits, class size, and administrative issues concerning the school calendar and scheduling.

Franchini acknowledged Wednesday that money is limited, saying there is no “pocket of money that’s hidden here.” However, he said, the state may make additional cost-of-living aid available to districts, which would be worth about $1 million to Torrance, and said funds may be found in several different school district accounts, as well.

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District officials could not be reached Wednesday afternoon to comment on the negotiations.

However, Supt. Edward Richardson, speaking to students at a Monday board meeting, pointed out that teachers received an 8% raise last year and 7% the year before.

“This year, in the general fund, that money is not available,” Richardson said.

So far this year, the district has made $3 million in cuts in its final $80 million budget. It laid off 39 employees this fall, including many maintenance workers.

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The three-year contract that expired in June provides salaries ranging from $24,869 for beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience to $48,090 for those with a master’s degree and 21 years’ experience. The beginning salary is 22nd among 43 unified school districts in Los Angeles County, according to a 1989-90 county survey.

Franchini said the district’s financial problems begin with the state, which “has not fulfilled its promise to make education its No. 1 priority.” He added that the district has not acknowledged that a “change in working conditions” has placed increased demands on teachers caused by evolving curriculum and staff training requirements.

Aside from the salary and benefit disputes, a key issue concerns class size.

The teachers’ previous contract provided a 35-student ceiling for classes in core academic areas, including math and science. A union proposal calls for extending that limit to all classes. Franchini said average class size is about 33, though at Torrance High School, 30 classes--including 16 math classes--now have more than 35 students, he said.

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The teachers’ union represents about 900 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors and psychologists in the 20,000-student district.


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