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Bitter Lessons : Compton School Labor Standoff Has Ugly Edge

February 01, 1987|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — The voice on the telephone Wednesday morning was icy and anonymous:

"You're on top now. But you're gonna be down soon. You better watch out for yourself and your family. These kids you're keeping out of school are gonna come back to get you."

Click.

Kelvin D. Filer, one of seven trustees in a school district that has been crippled by teacher strikes over 2 1/2 months, took the call as a death threat and reported it to police.

"I have the voice on tape, it was on my recorder," Filer said. "It's a female voice that I recognized because she's called before. . . . I'm not taking it lightly."

Filer and other Compton Unified School District officials have been getting lots of calls lately, at home and at work, day and night, from people angry that the teachers' demand for higher pay remains unmet.

Dirty Tricks

But the threatening call--and a police investigation into a report that Supt. Ted D. Kimbrough is the target of a murder "contract"--are only the most menacing examples of the dirty tricks, harassment and pressure tactics that school officials contend are being used to force a strike settlement. For example:

Bogus newspaper classified advertisements have been placed in the names of board members, offering rooms for rent and listing their phone numbers. They have been charged for the ads and deluged with inquiries.

Plumbers have been sent to their houses at all hours of the day.

On three occasions, a rental company tried to deliver a construction site portable toilet to Filer's residence.

Union handbills have spread the home and work phone numbers of all board members throughout the city, and Filer said, "The calls never stop."

And union pickets "followed me to the courthouse," said Filer, a criminal defense lawyer. "They followed me from courtroom to courtroom. . . . They followed me as I went to the record store and I purchased some videos. They followed me as I had lunch in a sandwich shop. . . . They've gone to my church and stood up and made an announcement that other members should call me and put pressure on me to give the teachers what they want."

Illegal Acts Denied

Union spokesmen say they are pressuring board members, but deny condoning pranks or illegal acts. In any case, school board members say that the pressure won't work.

"None of that stuff is going to affect my decisions," Filer said. "I don't want anyone to think they can put pressure on me to do anything. They cannot, they cannot ."

On Monday, Administrative Law Judge James W. Tamm will begin acting as a mediator between the teachers, who seek a raise of at least 7.3% next year, and administrators, who are offering a 5% increase. Starting salaries in the district range from $20,219 to $34,870 annually, depending on the teacher's educational credits.

Teachers stayed home from work on Wednesday--the 13th day since the on-again, off-again job action began Nov. 11--but agreed to return to their classrooms at least through Tuesday. Kimbrough estimates that the strike has cost the district at least $3 million as a result of slumping student attendance figures that are used to determine state aid.

Although the mediator's recommendations will be non-binding, contract negotiators believe that an outsider's view might at least cool the rising temperatures between the instructional and administrative employees of Los Angeles County's third largest--but poorest paid--public school system.

"I think because of the prolonged nature of it," Kimbrough said, "it has reached an emotional level that's going to have to be addressed by the district and (the teachers' union) to heal the wounds that exist."

Pat Ryan, a 28-year Compton High School Spanish teacher who serves as president of the 1,200-member Compton Education Assn., acknowledges that "yes, we are putting pressure on school board members."

"We are picketing their residences. And in the case of Lynn Dymally (daughter of Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton)), we are picketing her father's office. We are picketing the businesses of Mr. Filer and Mrs. (Mary) Henry because they're the ones who have to feel the change."

Threats Not Intended

But Ryan emphasized that "I don't know of any threats. That is not our intention. It could be anybody."

Ryan said union members are "extremely upset" that district administrators and four of the seven board members "are saying that they have the best interests of teachers in mind . . . but their actions don't show it."

"Yes, we're frustrated and angry," not only because of salaries but because of working conditions.

"I'm teaching in a room that has leaked for three years," Ryan said. "The night before I go home, if I know it's going to rain, I put a bucket where it leaks. Hey, I can take that for so long. You just reach a point when you're mad as hell and you're not gonna take it any longer."

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