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L.A. School Board OKs Budget of $4.5 Billion : Education: New programs and activities will be funded for the first time in five years. Not all money needed for teachers contract is included.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Board of Education approved a $4.5-billion budget Monday that for the first time in five years allocates money for new school activities and covers nearly all the cost of a proposed contract settlement with teachers.

The budget, approved on a 7-0 vote, sets aside $13.6 million to pay for the new programs, including school reform priorities that the board had vowed to emphasize this year.

“It’s a good feeling talking about program adds after so many years of cuts,” said Supt. Sid Thompson. The board will vote later on how to distribute the spending. Thompson has suggested funding a number of activities, including teacher and staff training programs, improved student medical services and school safety.

The budget does not include about $21 million of the money needed to pay for partially restoring teacher salaries that were cut over the last two years, but district officials said the money would be found.

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The new offer agreed to by the school board and union leaders Saturday would restore 8% of the 10% salary cut and will cost the district $170 million. A week ago, district officials said they only had enough money to pay for a 7% restoration in a salary package that was rejected by the teachers’ union.

But on Saturday, the school board agreed to a mediator’s proposal to ante up another 1%.

School district spokesman Bill Rivera said a similar restoration offer will be extended to the district’s six other unions.

“No programs will be cut, no employees will be fired,” Rivera said. “The budget is a vibrant thing that keeps changing daily. At the time the first offer was made, that was all we knew that was on hand. The mediator looked at the budget and told us: ‘I think you can come up with another 1%. Go find it.’ On the basis of his directive, it’s our job to find it.”

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School board member Barbara Boudreaux, who was unable to attend Saturday’s closed-door meeting, added her vote Monday to the settlement proposal, making approval of the pact by the board unanimous.

Meanwhile, United Teachers-Los Angeles President Helen Bernstein hit the road Monday for the first of a series of eight districtwide meetings to explain the new one-year offer to the rank-and-file.

“I think it would be stupid to strike when there is nothing to get in return,” she said Monday, predicting that there is no chance of a teachers strike soon after school opens. The union’s board of directors has voted to recommend that teachers accept the contract offer.

The proposal is scheduled to be put to a vote of the 32,000-member union the week of Sept. 12, when school opens.

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Although about 50 teachers who gathered at union headquarters near Downtown on Monday expressed disappointment they they did not receive a full restoration of the 10% cut, they appeared resolved that this is the best offer they can get now.

“I think it’s a pretty good offer and that this basically is a done deal, said Vance Adelman of Mt. Vernon Middle School. “Teachers are looking for any straw that they can grasp to avoid a strike.”

Jerome Robinson of Granada Hills High School said the school board should have given the full 10%. He said he is opposed to a school district policy aimed at treating all employees equitably by extending the same kind of contract to them.

“If everyone didn’t get the same (restoration), we would be getting our 10%,” Robinson said.

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Although they also have been offered salary returns, several of the district’s other unions are opposed to one provision of the teachers contract that they say threatens the future security of their own health benefits.

No other union has threatened to strike over the issue, but their objections mean that the district’s labor woes are not yet put to rest. Leaders from the other unions will meet this week to devise a joint negotiations strategy to protect their members, said Jim Walker, chief negotiator for the clerical workers.

To pay for 2% of the overall restoration for employees, the district proposed using a $42-million surplus in the health benefit account.

The district’s original offer stipulated that all unions must first agree to use the savings for that purpose, a provision the teachers strongly opposed. Teachers have long objected to contracts that link their bargaining to negotiations with other unions.

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The final offer to teachers removed this contingency--an important win for them--and their union will be taking about $33 million out of the account for pay.

At least three other unions--clerical workers, school police and the building trades--say this is an unfair raid on their account. Instead, they want the money saved as a hedge against future rising costs for health benefits.

They also say the teachers’ union share of the money is too high.

Rivera said the district is open to any counteroffer form the other unions on the issue.

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