Unions want furlough days canceled

Teachers unions are starting to push for a repeal of upcoming unpaid work furlough days after the state Legislature released millions in federal stimulus funding.

The federal money, with $2.5 million going to Burbank Unified and about $5 million to Glendale Unified, was meant to rehire laid-off teachers and rescind work furlough days. But so far, district officials have been unwilling to take the furloughs back, citing the fiscal uncertainty of the ongoing state budget stalemate.

In both districts, all laid-off teachers have been rehired.

Unpaid days in 2011 — two in Glendale and three in Burbank school districts — could stay in place until the state legislators and the governor approve a budget, an action that is now 79 days late and not expected before the November elections, officials in both districts said.

"We don't want the federal government giving us money and the state cutting Proposition 98 and taking it away in another fashion," Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said. "Our intention is there not be any furlough days this year, but at the same time we have to protect ourselves financially."

The circumstances leading up to the scheduled furlough days differ by district, but the institutions have similarities. They're relying on Sacramento and the local employee unions are beginning to rally to repeal the concessions.

In Burbank, teacher union Vice President Lori Adams told school board members Thursday night that the roughly $2.5 million in federal dollars coming to Burbank Unified are legally bound to education jobs, and by extension, unpaid days off.

"We have every day planned for the whole year," the Burbank High School math teacher said. "It's important our students get these days back."

But officials in both districts continue to caution that state legislators are likely to cut education funding for another year to balance a $19-billion state budget deficit. Public education has sustained $17 billion in cuts over the last two years, according to California Department of Education.

"We have committed ourselves to try and make this the best district possible with the resources we have," said Burbank school board member Dave Kemp. "From this side of the dais, we're pedaling as fast as we can to keep [the district] from sinking."

In Glendale, the school board and teachers union ended more than a year's worth of acrimony when both sides ratified a three-year agreement. It lowers the district's costs by about $12.8 million over three years, partly through an escalating rate of furlough days.

But it also contained a provision, now at the center of contention, that the unpaid work days would remain if the state cut too far into district revenue.

"The understanding we had at the table is once that money is [approved by the state Legislature], the two furlough days would be withdrawn," said Tami Carlson, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn. "Should there be a huge cut, we'd be back at the table."

Carlson said her members shouldn't have to wait for a state budget to pass.

"Ultimately, we are talking about the education of our children," she said. "They could drag this on forever."

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