NORWALK — Protesting teachers in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District say they will start showing their displeasure over stalled contract talks by restricting their work to the classroom.
While the teachers' chief negotiator ruled out the possibility of a strike this year, he said teachers throughout the district are planning to boycott work outside the classroom, such as grading students' papers at home or taking part in after-school activities.
"It will build up progressively," said Richard A. Ruether, executive director of the Teachers Assn. of the Norwalk-La Mirada Area.
The district's 850 teachers returned to school last week without a contract. Their salary dispute with the district is apparently far from being settled. At a packed Board of Education meeting Monday night, a parade of teachers dismissed the district's offer of a 3% pay increase as insulting. They demanded instead an 8% raise.
"Three percent--when I read that, I wanted to cry," complained James Wilcox, a teacher at La Mirada High School.
The district received only a 2.5% cost-of-living increase from the state this year, and school officials insist that they can't afford to give the teaching staff much more. "We're doing everything we can according to what we have," board President Lucille Colln said in an interview.
"This is the first time (in a number of years) that school has started and we haven't had a contract," said Shelby Wagner, assistant district superintendent for personnel services.
He said the longer-than-usual salary negotiations have produced uncommon signs of conflict, such as the overflow crowd of placard-carrying teachers at the board meeting and the teachers' threat of dropping non-classroom activities.
Colln said it would be "unfortunate" if teachers carried out the threat. She added: "I don't know if they actually would."
If need be, Ruether vowed, teachers will work the entire year without a contract.
The salary issue is not the only sticking point in negotiations. The teachers association has renewed its call for a secret election in which teachers would decide whether they all have to pay annual dues to the association. Nearly 90% of the district's teachers are members of the group, which argues that non-members benefit from its bargaining efforts without contributing the $400 annual membership fee.
Ruether said the board for years has ignored requests for such an election because many board members are philosophically opposed to mandatory fees.
Teachers also want dental and vision insurance coverage extended to their dependents, and they want the right to transfer from one school to another after requesting it for two consecutive years.
In recent years, teachers' annual contracts have provided salary increases of 5% to 6%, similar to the cost-of-living increases in state school funds. Despite the smaller state increase this year, Ruether said, pay raises have averaged 4.8% in the 29 Los Angeles County school districts that have finished salary talks.
District officials say that comparison is not necessarily valid because some of those districts may be in the middle of long-term contracts. In addition, Wagner said, the Norwalk-La Mirada district is absorbing a 13% increase in medical insurance premiums and giving automatic step raises of about 1% to qualifying teachers. When these are combined with the 3% pay hike, the district is really offering almost 5% more in benefits and salary, he said.
Among the 42 unified school districts in Los Angeles County, the Norwalk-La Mirada district fell in the middle range of spending on teachers' salaries during the 1985-1986 school year, the most recent for which figures were available.
The district spent $1,362 on teachers' salaries per student, ranking 25th. Beverly Hills spent the most per student, $2,559, and the Rowland district in Rowland Heights spent the least, $1,137.