COMPTON — A state arbitrator has recommended a 6% wage increase for about 1,400 kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers, but Compton school district representatives have rejected the recommendation, setting up a possible strike vote next Thursday.
The strike vote would come 10 months after the first bargaining session between the Compton Unified School District and the teachers, who have worked without a contract since September.
While teachers welcomed the non-binding recommendation of the state arbitrator, C. Chester Briscoe of Santa Ana, schools Supt. Ted Kimbrough said Tuesday that Briscoe has misconstrued the district's financial position.
A 6% increase, costing about $2 million, would eat up all reserve funds legally available for salaries but would only meet the wage demands of teachers, who make up just half of the district's 2,850 employees, Kimbrough said. The district has money for a 1% raise, he maintained. The teachers have asked for a 12% increase.
"I don't have a problem with giving the teachers a 20% raise if we had the money, but we just don't," the superintendent said.
Negotiations to Resume
Kimbrough, who presented the arbiter's report as background information to the board of trustees Tuesday evening, said he expected negotiations to resume today or Friday.
If the district sticks to its 1% offer, the teachers' union will probably request a strike vote at its April 18 meeting, union President Jean Curtis said.
"It's certainly possible that if the district is not willing to negotiate a fair and just settlement, we'll be looking at a strike vote," said Curtis. "It seems that the only option will be a strike. We have exhausted every step of the negotiating process, and they are still basically in the same position."
Bargaining began last June, and negotiators declared an impasse in December. In January, they chose Briscoe to hear arguments and make recommendations for settlement.
In his report, Briscoe said he "deplores the salary position in which (Compton) teachers find themselves."
Called Poorly Paid
He said Compton teachers are among the worst paid in Los Angeles County and are poorly paid when compared with instructors in other large districts statewide.
A beginning teacher in Compton made about $14,009 last year; the maximum salary after 13 years was $29,011, according to the district.
By comparison, beginning teachers made $17,603 in Long Beach and $16,503 in Downey in 1983-84, according to the county Department of Education. Maximum salaries were $32,457 in Long Beach and $30,005 in Downey.
Briscoe concluded that through "judicious" use of existing funds the district can grant the 6% wage increase.
"The teachers are underpaid," Kimbrough responded. But he said Briscoe has erred in saying money is available for 6% raises.
"My problem with his report is that he is suggesting that we get the money from either one-time funds or our reserve accounts, which are already less than the 3% (of total budget) recommended by the county and the state.
"A 3% reserve is $2.7 million, and we're already down to a million and a half," he said. The district's total budget is about $93 million.
Focus on Funds
In recommending the salary increases, Briscoe focused on $1.9 million the district has in the bank for future construction, on a $3.1-million "special reserve fund," and on about $1.5 million budgeted in 1984-85 for building improvements and other purposes but not expected to be spent this fiscal year.
However, Kimbrough argued that it would be irresponsible to raise salaries with the $1.9 million in construction money because that money will be spent in a single year, while the costs of salary increases will recur yearly.
In addition, the district is legally precluded from using the $3.1 million special reserve fund from the sale of surplus property for salaries, said Kimbrough.
The $1.5 million budgeted but not expected to be spent will have to carry whatever salary increases are granted teachers and other employees, he said. A 1% increase for teachers alone would cost $341,000, Briscoe reported.
Briscoe, an arbitrator with the state Public Employment Relations Board, acknowledged that the district's options are limited because it is now nine months into this fiscal year. It is unfortunate, he said, that the district did not pass along a 6.6%, or $2.3 million, state funding increase to its teachers. Much of the money was budgeted for building improvements, instructional and other supplies and equipment purchases.
Kimbrough said, however, that Compton employees received an 8.5% increase in salary and benefits two years ago, when the state provided no extra money to offset inflation.
Compton ranks 31st of the county's 43 school districts in teacher salary increases during the last six years, though it ranks 11th of 43 during the last three years, according to Briscoe.