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LAUSD, Teachers Tentatively OK 3-Year Contract

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

The Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers union tentatively agreed Tuesday on a contract that raises salaries 3% this year and guarantees employees a share of any new money the district receives in the next three years.

The proposed contract, which must still be ratified by the union’s membership, will hardly make teachers rich. It restores previous pay cuts, but will only bring most instructors back to 1991 salary levels.

More important, the three-year pact is designed to help the district and its employees avoid the messy cycle of bickering over salaries that has threatened to disrupt classes for the last several years.

The multiyear contract, the first for the district since 1989, also protects employees’ salaries and benefits in the event that the drive to break up the 635,000-student district succeeds.

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The offer will be extended to all district employees and, if approved by all bargaining units, will cost the school system $152 million this school year.

“It’s nice to know that over the next few years a formula is in place that releases us [from] bickering with the district . . . to devote our attention to school reform,” said Helen Bernstein, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, which represents the district’s 30,000 teachers.

Supt. Sid Thompson used the announcement of the agreement and its promise of labor peace and financial stability to lash back at the district’s critics, including Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

Riordan last week offered to set up a task force to explore dismantling the district, calling it “one of the worst major city school systems in the country.”

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Acknowledging that he was stung by the comment, Thompson said Tuesday that “there are people out there who live in glass houses throwing rocks about whether we are viable. I would say to them . . . when you look across the nation, we are a darn good school system.”

Riordan is on vacation and could not be reached for comment. His office did not return calls seeking comment.

Thompson contrasted the district’s financial standing with that of the city and county, contending that the district’s strong debt rating will save it more than $3 million in interest costs each year on its loans.

Los Angeles County’s bond rating was lowered this year, and city Controller Rick Tuttle warned in July that the city’s indebtedness is growing at a dangerous pace.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has faced up to shortages in its $4.4-billion budget, cutting $1.2 billion in the last five years through a combination of service and salary cuts.

Bernstein said credit for the district’s financial stability should go, in large part, to its teachers, who have given up as much as $15,000 apiece in wages in recent years to keep the district solvent.

“The employees I represent made a large sacrifice every year . . . and all of us should be grateful to them,” she said.

Still, Thompson acknowledged that the district faces the daunting challenge of improving student achievement, but added that the three-year contract will help achieve that goal because it will shift the focus from the negotiating table to the classroom, allowing reforms to take root.

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The contract was made possible by an infusion of state money, including higher lottery revenues and the first cost-of-living funding increase from the state in five years, Thompson said.

The proposed contract essentially takes the district’s teachers back to where they were in 1991, when the downturn in the state’s economy forced school districts across the state to tighten their budgets.

Faced with funding shortfalls, the district cut the pay of all its employees that year and furloughed teachers and others without pay for several days. Teachers’ pay was cut again, by 7%, in a two-year pact in 1992.

Last year, a combination of a permanent wage increase and a one-time bonus helped teachers regain part of the ground they lost. The proposed increase for this year makes up the rest of what they gave up and gives teachers with 25 years of experience and a master’s degree an additional $1,000 annual pay increase.

Although the contract covers three years, the 3% pay hike is guaranteed only for this year. If the state’s economy falters, that money could disappear and wages could be rolled back to their 1994 level. If the district receives increased state funding for the next two years, teachers could keep the 3% and receive additional raises.

Both the union and district have agreed on a formula that guarantees employees a certain portion of any new revenues. Union officials said they are comfortable with that agreement because the district has offered to allow union accountants to inspect their financial records.

School Board President Mark Slavkin said the agreement demonstrates a new level of trust between the union and the district, calling it a “win-win situation for the district, our teachers and especially our students.”

“It provides much-needed stability and financial assurances to the district that we are not spending money we do not have,” Slavkin said.

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UTLA’s Bernstein said this year’s negotiations were difficult, but remained focused on the goal of restoring wages while also setting aside money for critical classroom needs.

She said the existence of $42 million in one-time state funds for deferred maintenance, instructional materials and technology helped the negotiations by ensuring that classrooms would see some improvements.

Final language of the contract and non-financial issues still must be worked out, but Bernstein said she expects to take a contract offer to union leadership next week.

The union’s 28,000 members will probably vote on the package the week of Sept. 10. If the contract is not ratified, the union members have authorized their leaders to call a strike next week.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

L.A. Teachers’ Pay

1988: United Teachers-Los Angeles staged a nine-day strike in 1989 and won a three-year contract guaranteeing teachers 8% annual raises each year, retroactive to the 1988-89 school year. That made them among the state’s highest-paid teachers.

Beginning Salary (Bachelor’s degree,no experience)

1988-89: $25,316

1989-90: $27,346

1990-91: $29,529

Maximum Salary (Master’s degree, 25 years experience)

1988-89: $46,339

1989-90: $49,868

1990-91: $53,683

1991: During the next round of budget deliberations, the district faced deep funding cuts and reduced teacher salaries by 3%, in a one-year deal characterized as a “loan” because it guaranteed repayment of the pay cut by 1995. Teachers also lost an dditional 1% of their salaries that year through mandatory furloughs.

Beginning Salary

1991-92: $28,361

Maximum w/25 Years Experience

1991-92: $51,631

1992: Teachers voted to strike, then accepted a deal brokered by then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown that cut their salaries by an additional 7%. That two-year pact was considered a victory of sorts because the school board wanted to cut pay 9%.

Beginning Salary

1992-93: $26,395

1993-94: $26,573

Maximum w/25 Years Experience

1992-93: $48,053

1993-94: $48,349

1994: The contract between UTLA and the district restored 8% of the money that had been cut from teacher salaries during the previous three years, but only 4% was considered a salary restoration. The other 4% was deemed a one-time bonus, subject to renegotiation this year.

Beginning Salary

1994-95: $28,704

Maximum w/25 Years Experience

1994-95: $52,227

1995: The union and district leaders have agreed to a three-year deal that will provide teachers a 3% one-time bonus on top of last year’s salary levels, restoring wages to their 1991 pre-cut levels. The district has pledged to make the 3% bonus permanent if additional state funding materializes in future years. Teachers also will get a final lump sum to repay the 1991 “loan.”

Beginning Salary

1995-96: $29,529

Maximum w/25 Years Experience

1995-96: $54,703*

* includes $1,020 incentive at 25 years)


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