ORANGE : No Progress Made in School Strike

As a strike by non-teaching employees in the Orange Unified School District entered its second day Tuesday, district and union officials appeared to be no closer to resolving their differences over a school board-imposed contract.

Initially, officials with the California School Employees Assn., which represents 1,160 Orange Unified classified employees, estimated that 400 workers were participating in the strike, but Tuesday they raised that number to 600. District officials, however, said 400 is a more accurate figure.

Meanwhile, the 2-day-old strike continued to strain the district's resources, resulting in another virtual shutdown of its bus and child-care systems. About 7,000 of the district's 26,000 students depend on bus transportation to get to school.

With only special education students receiving bus service during the strike, hundreds of frustrated parents were again left to provide school transportation for their children, briefly snarling traffic around school campuses in the morning and afternoon. Also, more than half of the district's 24 child-care facilities closed down and skeletal cafeteria crews scrambled to serve cold lunchtime meals to students.

The district is relying heavily upon teachers, administrators and parent volunteers to fill service gaps left by the strike.

Hundreds of pickets rallied at district headquarters Tuesday afternoon, renewing pledges to stay out of work.

"We are going to stay out as long as it takes," said Sandra Thomas, food service worker at El Modena High School in Villa Park. "This is our livelihood. We aren't asking for anything more, just what we used to have."

The workers, who have not had a pay raise since 1988, took a 2.59% pay cut last year.

At issue is a school board-imposed contract that cuts health benefits, imposes furloughs and empowers the district to lay off workers or reduce their hours without notice. The school board said the contract was necessary to keep the district solvent.

The contract saved the district $485,000, helping the district offset a $2.2-million shortfall in this year's $107-million budget.

But district officials also dug in Tuesday, reiterating their position that further contract negotiations are out of the question.

While the two sides are not officially speaking to each other, union officials faxed a proposal to the district Tuesday. Union and district officials, however, would not comment on its contents. District officials said they will meet with members of the Board of Education regarding the proposal.

The district has established a strike hot line for parents to call for information. The number is (714) 532-6987.

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