LONG BEACH — The specter of a teachers strike prompted the Long Beach Board of Education Wednesday to grant its school superintendent emergency hiring powers in the event of a strike.
A resolution passed unanimously at a special meeting authorized Supt. E. Tom Giugni to hire emergency substitutes at higher-than-usual rates as temporary replacements for striking teachers, to make emergency assignments and to require absent teachers to provide proof of the causes for their absences.
"The best offense is a good defense," Giugni said in an interview prior to the action.
The Teachers Assn. of Long Beach had threatened to call a strike vote among the district's 2,800 teachers for as early as next week. But the union's board of directors backed away from an immediate strike vote, after a 3 1/2-hour meeting Tuesday night. "We will go back and perhaps find some area (of) agreement," said union President Don Goddard, referring to the association's on-again, off-again contract negotiations with the district. "Hopefully, we can get it settled."
Goddard would not say what sort of counteroffer the association might make, except to say that after Tuesday night's closed-door session there were "some parameters" for movement. He said the association would spend the next week "trying to work with the district" to achieve a solution while at the same time "assessing" the district's campuses regarding teacher support for a possible strike.
A new negotiating session between the two sides has been scheduled for Friday morning.
Neutral Third Parties
At issue is the teachers' demand for binding arbitration of grievances, which has divided negotiators for nearly a year. Specifically, the teachers say that they want the right to call in neutral third parties to settle grievance disputes; the district opposes binding arbitration as a costly erosion of its power.
The two sides say that they agree on virtually every other aspect of a contract to replace the one that expired Aug. 31. The district has offered to bring the teachers' salaries to $24,145 for beginners and $48,776 for those with doctorate degrees plus 15 years of experience in the third year of the contract. The average teacher would earn $37,115 under the district's proposal. Current salaries are $19,434 for beginners, $39,260 for a 15-year teacher with a doctorate and $29,874 for the average teacher.
The teachers union responded to the district's "final offer" by accepting it, but for only one year rather than the three years proposed. Last week the district countered by offering the contract for two years, a solution Goddard called an "insult."
A teacher strike would be the first in the 101-year history of the Long Beach Unified School District, according to spokesman Dick Van der Laan.
In addition to passing the emergency resolutions, the board voted Wednesday to increase the school day in the district's junior high schools by 35 minutes and in kindergartens by 17 minutes. The longer days will be effective Monday.
Giugni said the increase was enacted to comply with a state law that would bring $1.9 million to the district for lengthening the school day. He said the money had already been earmarked for increased teacher salaries as reflected in the district's final contract offer.