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Teachers’ Strike Vote May Be Academic : Labor: The school board is expected to ratify a contract Monday, averting a walkout. About 83% of union members vote to walk off the job May 7 if pact is unsettled.

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Los Angeles school district teachers, in an expression of intense frustration over a prolonged contract fight, voted overwhelmingly to strike May 7 if the school board has not ratified their pact by then.

With nearly all the 19,711 ballots counted late Thursday afternoon, about 83% of union teachers, counselors and school nurses voted to walk off their jobs.

With the school board set to approve the contract Monday, United Teachers-Los Angeles President Helen Bernstein predicted that a strike will not occur and called the vote a strong reflection of dispirited teachers anger with the district.

“I believe that the contract is going to be ratified . . . and there will be no need to strike,” Bernstein said. “But what I am so concerned with is the morale. It’s like they still love teaching but hate their jobs. I don’t know how we are ever going to recover from this. . . . I don’t think it’s ever going to be OK again.”

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It is the fourth time in seven months that teachers union members have flocked to the ballot box for a strike-related vote, and with each vote, many teachers say, their anger has increased.

In October, 89% voted to authorize a strike rather than accept a cumulative 12% pay cut. Then, in December, 78% said they would walk out in February, turning down a new district offer that included the pay cut. A third vote was taken that averted the February walkout, with 69% approving a proposal by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) that reduced the pay cut to 10%.

Although teachers won on several important school empowerment issues, including the right to choose most class assignments by seniority, the stinging pay cut has left them demoralized.

School board President Leticia Quezada said that a majority of the school board is “committed to the contract” and will approve it Monday.

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Also, a glitch remains that could, in a worst-case scenario, potentially derail the scheduled Monday vote. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Assn. will decide this afternoon whether they will again seek to block approval of the contract on the grounds that the district cannot afford its $36-million cost.

Last week, the watchdog group won a temporary court order barring the school board from approving the contract on grounds that state and constitutional laws prevent local governments from spending more money than they have.

But with a last-minute infusion of $35.1 million of state funds, the group agreed Wednesday to drop the lawsuit on the condition that they could interview under oath district budget director Henry Jones and county schools Supt. Stuart Gothold. Joel Fox, president of Jarvis group, said that they want assurances from top school officials that the district will end the year in the black.

Fox declined to comment Thursday on the deposition with Jones, who said this week that the new funds will enable the district to pay all its bills this year.

Gothold said Thursday that with the new cash and about $6 million in increased lottery revenue, “I have no problem” with board approval of the contract.

He said if the Jarvis group has concerns about the district’s ability to pay for the pact this year, “I don’t know what it could be. The Jarvis people are asking, is the district making an agreement that would make them insolvent. . . . From what I’ve seen, the answer is no.”

He also said that another major financial concern--that the district would have no funds to pay for the contract next year--appears to have been removed. The $35.1 million in new money comes from unspent state desegregation money. These funds will likely be available to the district again next year because they are associated with its court-supervised desegregation program.

“The one thing that I was most concerned about has not come to pass,” said Gothold, who under state law must ensure that the district does not go bankrupt. “They are not using onetime funds to pay for what will be an re-occurring expense.”

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