COMPTON — With teacher ratification of a new contract expected today, school district officials concentrated Wednesday on ending a boycott in which students have been kept home by their parents, and eyed possible cuts in next year's budget that are sure to be controversial.
Despite a tentative teachers' wage settlement Monday, the boycott that has kept thousands of students out of school during the last 10 days continued Wednesday, though at diminished levels, according to school officials.
Administrators continued to emphasize to parents that it is illegal to keep children out of school without valid excuses, said Supt. Ted Kimbrough.
Disgruntled parents, communicating through telephone "trees," kept children home to protest poor teacher salaries, lack of educational supplies and the general condition of schools. Bill Young, spokesman for the boycotting parents, insisted the walkout had been called off after it peaked last Friday.
But about 6,275 of the district's 27,290 students were absent Wednesday, said controller John Benham. That 23% absentee rate compares with 27% Tuesday, 31% Monday, 38% last Friday and 30% last Thursday, said Benham. Absences usually average about 11%, officials said.
No Financial Impact
Though seen as an economic lever on the schools, the boycott will have no financial impact, said Benham on Tuesday. Schools usually lose $12.11 per day from the state for each unexcused absence, so district officials publicly had estimated large losses because of the boycott. However, Benham said Tuesday that state funding is based on attendance before April 15.
As efforts to boost attendance continued, Kimbrough was briefing the district Board of Trustees in special meetings Tuesday and Wednesday on what cuts may be necessary in next year's budget to pay for the teachers' wage pact that will cost an additional $3 million in the next fiscal year.
Kimbrough said the district will have to reduce its 2,850-employee work force "substantially" to balance its budget, with as many jobs as possible eliminated through attrition. About 82% of this year's $93-million budget will be spent on employee salaries and benefits, said Benham.
"It's going to be a very tight year," said Kimbrough. "Some of these cuts will be painful."
A freeze has already been placed on all district expenditures for the rest of this school year, he said.
Possible cuts include the closing of one of the district's 35 schools, which Kimbrough allowed "is always very, very controversial."
Schools most likely to be closed are Enterprise, Walton and Vanguard junior highs, all of which have low enrollments, said Kimbrough. "But that's a very sensitive area," he cautioned, "and we really want to go slow on that to make sure it's seen as a positive move, not a negative. We'll be talking to parents."
If a school is closed as a junior high, it might be converted to a elementary to reduce some of the crowding in schools in eastern Compton, he said.
Other options that Kimbrough submitted for trustee consideration were:
- Reductions in all classifications of non-teaching employees, including decreased numbers of counselors and administrators at each school.
- Elimination of driver education courses.
- Reductions in the number of non-classroom "resource" teachers, whose salaries are paid by the district, not by special state or federal funds.
- Creation of an incentive program to reduce absenteeism among teachers, who Kimbrough said miss an average of 14 days a year, creating a strong demand for substitute instructors.
- Elimination of a tax-shelter annuity for non-teacher employees, which would save the district $400,000 a year. Teachers gave up the annuity in bargaining last year, Kimbrough said. This would have to be negotiated with the classified employees' union.
- Putting bus drivers on hourly wages instead of salary to reduce transportation costs that Kimbrough said are "awfully high." This must be negotiated with the union.
The school board's attempts to cut the budget will have a minimal effect on the salaries of the district's 1,400 teachers if the contract hammered out after marathon bargaining and under threat of strike Monday is ratified by secret ballot today at each of the schools.
5.5% Increase Over 2 Years
Under the new contract, all kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers and adult school instructors would receive a 9.1% salary boost for the rest of this school year and all of the next one. The increase would not cover the first eight months of this 10-month school year, however, and equates to 5.5% over the full two years of the contract.
Kimbrough called the increase "a good one" for the teachers, but he said it would cost the district about $3 million in the next fiscal year.