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Bonita Teacher Pact OKd With 6% Raise

May 17, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

The long and bitter contract dispute between teachers and the Bonita Unified School District ended last week when teachers won a 6% salary increase and a role in setting class sizes.

Teachers approved the contract, which has been under negotiations for nearly two years, by a vote of 197 to 3 on Thursday.

"Essentially, the whole contract has been rewritten," said Dan Harden, vice president of the 300-member Bonita Unified Teachers Assn. "This is definitely a new beginning for us."

Shortly after the union's vote, the school board ratified the contract at a special meeting, putting an official end to the longest contract dispute in the district's history.

"It has been debilitating to all concerned," said James T. Johnson Jr., superintendent of the 9,000-student district that spans La Verne and San Dimas. "It got to the point where people were saying, 'A pox on all your houses.' A fresh beginning is really needed."

The new contract includes:

A 6% salary increase that will be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.

A guarantee that the overall student-teacher ratio in the district will remain at a maximum of 30.5 students per teacher.

A streamlined grievance procedure that will shorten the time needed to resolve labor disputes.

Restrictions on assigning teachers to after-school activities.

"I hope I never have to go through this again," said board member Robert Green, who represented the board in the negotiations. "It's unfortunate this dragged on for so long, but I feel good about this contract."

The negotiations had been marked by a one-day teachers' strike in March, some parents keeping their childen out of school for one day a week later and threats to begin efforts to recall Green.

Teachers also complained that Johnson had improperly used his position and school supplies to solicit campaign contributions for two board members during an election in 1985.

The complaint resulted in the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing issuing a "private admonition" on Johnson's administrative credentials.

The breakthrough in the negotiations came May 8 when a state-appointed mediator called both sides together after talks had broken down two weeks earlier.

In the next 22 hours, both sides reached a series of compromises that satisfied the district's desire for limiting the financial impact of the raises, and the union's desire for granting teachers more say in decision-making.

The union had originally asked for a guarantee that all money from the state lottery, estimated to reach $1 million in the next school year, be used to hire new teachers and decrease class sizes, Harden said.

Commitment Refused

The district refused to commit the lottery money to a specific purpose, pointing out that there is no guarantee of just how much money the district will actually receive, Green said.

The main unresolved issue was class size, which had been discussed in earlier negotiations but never fully settled.

Under the settlement, the average student-teacher ratio in the district will be frozen at a maximum of 30.5 students per teacher. The maximum class size will be frozen at 33 students for kindergarten, 32 students for grades 1 to 3, 34 students for grades 4 and 5, and 35 students for grades 6 through 12.

The union was successful in winning the creation of teacher committees to oversee the mix in each class of academic achievers and problem students, Harden said.

Johnson said the union had wanted the final say on the makeup of a classroom but eventually agreed to give principals at each school the ability to override the committee recommendations for "educationally sound reasons."

"Once that decision was made, everything fell into place," he said.

Salaries a Major Obstacle

The issue of salaries and their impact on the district's finances had also been a major obstacle.

The union begun negotiations by asking for an 11% salary increase, while the district offered a 2% raise.

The final 6% compromise, which will cost the district about $720,000, will be retroactive to the beginning of this school year, Green said.

Although the contract is for three years, salary negotiations will be reopened July 1 for the next school year and in 1988 for the 1988-89 school year.

Despite the settlement, both Harden and Green agreed that bitterness may linger.

A residents' group still intends to launch a recall campaign against Green, Harden said.

Green said such talk is only an attempt to intimidate the board and that efforts to force the issue onto the ballot will fail.

Johnson, who is retiring this June, warned that teachers and the board "could all kiss and make up, but there are continuing feelings. I'd like to think this is all over, but I don't think it is."

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