About 300 of the Bonita Unified School District's 380 teachers boycotted classes Tuesday, taking to the streets with yellow, diamond-shaped badges that proclaimed "School Board Victim On Board."
The one-day strike came after contract negotiations with school officials collapsed Monday afternoon, climaxing an ongoing dispute in the 9,000-student district that spans the cities of San Dimas and La Verne.
"We are here today in pursuit of a righteous cause," Mary K. Nichols, president of the Bonita Unified Teachers Assn., told a crowd of 300 teachers, parents and students assembled outside San Dimas City Hall. "Your courage and dedication will make a difference in the quality of education for our students."
District officials, expressing disappointment in the union, reported that about 175 substitute teachers and 25 staff members were used to conduct classes in the 12 Bonita schools.
"There's no way this is going to improve the situation," District Supt. James T. Johnson Jr. said. "It divides; it doesn't conquer."
Teachers, who were back at school Wednesday, called the strike after the district refused to accept the recommendations of a state-appointed fact finder, who was summoned in January to help resolve the conflict. The district and teachers have been separated all year by 15 key issues, including a dispute over salaries.
"I think it's a sad commentary," said Dick Gale, head of the union's negotiating team. "To be forced to this point is an outrage."
The strike came on the same day that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered 1,200 teachers in the Compton Unified School District to halt the intermittent walkouts they have been staging over the past four months because the strikes may amount to "an illegal economic weapon."
That was the first time a California teacher strike had been blocked after union leaders had complied with the long contract mediation process required by state law. Many school officials speculated that the Compton ruling may form a future basis for arguing that all teacher strikes are illegal.
Under that premise, Johnson said, the Bonita district has asked for an injunction from the state Public Employment Relations Board to bar the teachers from striking again. The teachers said that any future strikes would be decided on a day-to-day basis.
One of the primary snags in the Bonita dispute is the fact finder's conclusion that "the district appears to be in excellent fiscal condition" and should give the teachers a 7% raise. School officials have insisted that their traditonally "low-wealth" district does not have the resources to fund such a salary increase.
Union leaders, who originally had sought an 11% raise, agreed to accept the fact finder's non-binding recommendation. But district officials, who have maintained they can afford to give only a 5% raise, said that any additional increase would be contingent on the availability of funds at the end of the school year.
"I suppose it was a very successful strike as far as the union's concerned," Johnson said. "But that doesn't put any money in the bank."
The striking teachers spent most of the day moving their picket lines between schools, where they waved placards and handed out flyers to parents as they dropped off their children.
Parent Joins Pickets
One parent, picketing with the teachers, said she kept her 8-year-old daughter home from her third-grade class on Tuesday to protest the district's position.
"I feel the (school) board is for power rather than listening to the parents," said Laurie Weiss of La Verne.
Another parent used her La Verne home as a classroom for her 6-year-old daughter's kindergarten/first-grade class, and their regular teacher was called in to lead the 20 students who attended.
"I support the position of the teachers, yet it allowed me to make a statement that I want to teach school," said Karen Huigens, who has taught for 13 years at La Verne Heights Elementary School. "It is important for me to be with my children."
District officials reported that about 25% of the students stayed away from classes on Tuesday, compared to the standard absentee rate of about 6%. By afternoon, some high schools reported that 75% to 80% of the students had left for the day.
'We're Pushing for You'
"We just want you guys to know we're really pushing for you," David Maurer, student body president at Bonita High School, told the teachers at Tuesday's 10 a.m. rally in San Dimas. "Just stick in there and go for all you're worth."
Johnson, 62, who announced last week that he will retire when his contract expires June 30, said he hoped that the one-day strike would lead teachers back to the bargaining table.
"Maybe it allowed them to get rid of some of the built-up energy and frustration," Johnson said. "If they now say they won, and that gets us back to the business of educating children . . . so be it."