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Schools, Teachers Break Stalemate : Education: Union and board reach a contract agreement that provides for repayment of a 3% salary cut.

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Breaking a months-long stalemate that threatened disruption of classes for more than 600,000 students, the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers union announced Thursday that they have resolved a contract dispute that centered on a 3% pay cut.

Teachers union members will vote Tuesday and Wednesday on a proposed contract that guarantees repayment over the next four years of the 3% that was slashed from all teachers’ salaries this year to help balance the district’s budget.

The agreement would also allow teachers to begin the next school year with their salaries restored to the 1990-91 level.

At a news conference to announce the settlement, school board members and leaders of United Teachers-Los Angeles were jubilant, praising the agreement as a victory for both sides because it guarantees that teachers will recoup lost pay but will not place a heavy financial burden on the district next year.

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“We emerged with our health care intact, our retirement benefits intact, and we consider that a victory for everyone,” Bernstein said. “We are helping the district in a time of fiscal crisis, and they will make good on their promise to pay us back.”

The contract requires the district to repay the 3% at a rate of at least half a percent annually over the next four years. District officials said Thursday that they intend to repay all employees on the same schedule, which will cost the system $11.7 million annually. The payments will include interest, and any balance outstanding at the end of 1995 will be repaid in a lump sum.

District finance chief Robert Booker said the repayment should not require deeper cuts in school services because the district expects to receive $156 million in additional state funding next year. The money was promised under Proposition 98--the 1988 voter-approved initiative that guaranteed public schools a stable share of state revenues--but it was deferred last year because of the state’s budget deficit.

Board President Warren Furutani said resolving the contract dispute will allow the district and the union to concentrate on joint efforts to seek additional funding for the system from Sacramento and end the rancorous relations generated by the district’s budget crisis.

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The settlement was approved on a 5-2 vote, with Leticia Quezada and Barbara Boudreaux dissenting.

Quezada complained that the agreement makes “false promises” to employees because the salary restoration would be in effect for a few months, at most, next year. “The board majority is . . . betting on a failing economy and giving employees a false sense of security that they will have their old salaries back,” she said.

Bernstein said: “We understand full well that we’re taking a crap shoot on what happens. We know (employees of) this district may have to take a unilateral pay cut again next year.”

The pay of all 58,000 full-time district employees was cut 3% by the school board this year to help the district close a $275-million budget gap. Board members have said all along that the money would be repaid as the district received additional state funding, but union leaders sought a guarantee that the reimbursement would not depend on revenue increases.

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“The payback is not new; our commitment as a board has always been to repay (the cuts) with interest,” Furutani said. “With this contract, we are thanking them concretely for their help with the financial problems, to make sure it’s not the tooth fairy or pie in the sky, but a guaranteed payback.”

The contract also requires the district to transfer $6.8 million from its reserve account to a fund to pay substitute teachers. Without this transfer, high school teachers would have had to give up their free periods to cover for absent colleagues. An incentive program offering teachers bonus sick days next year if absenteeism is cut this year should allow the district to recoup that cost, Booker said.


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