Teachers in the Orange Unified School District on Wednesday returned to their classes after a one-day strike Tuesday, but some indicated that labor actions not sanctioned by the union, such as sickouts, may be in store for the next week.
District officials said they are seeking a restraining order that would prohibit more teacher walkouts, such as Tuesday's strike, as well as wildcat absenteeism.
"Our attorneys are working on getting the restraining order, but the papers have not been filed yet," said Jack Elsner, personnel contract administrator for the district.
The request for the restraining order will be filed with the state Public Employees Relations Board in Sacramento, he said Wednesday.
Mark Rona, president of the Orange Unified Education Assn., said Wednesday that the union is not participating in the talk of sickouts. "That's illegal," he said.
Refusing After-Hours Work
Rona also said the union is not involved in refusals by teachers to pressure the district by refusing to do after-hours work, such as appearances at parent nights and career nights.
Teachers at El Modena High School voted Wednesday to boycott the traditional Back to School Night on April 21 unless there has been a contract settlement by that date. On Back to School Night, parents come to the high school to meet teachers.
The friction between teachers and management in Orange Unified centers on demands for better pay and fringe benefits. For the 14 months, school district officials and union negotiators have been trying to agree on a pay raise for the teachers.
The current average teacher salary in Orange Unified is $33,307, according to district figures. The pay range is from $21,686 for a beginning teacher to $40,628 for the most senior instructor.
Rona said Tuesday that the school board rejected a compromise package last week that would have ended the dispute.
But on Wednesday, district officials said the package offered by the union could not be called a compromise.
"The amount of money represented by that last demand from the teachers association was more than $1 million more than the school district could offer," Elsner said.
He said the union had demanded $300,000 for a bonus payment for teachers this year, plus $300,000 next year for permanent salary increases, besides a change in the overall "matrix" used to pay teachers.
"Matrix" refers to the teachers' basic pay schedule, which is a series of steps and increments based on seniority and advanced education. Both the school district and the union said Wednesday that just before the strike they had agreed on a proposed change to that matrix.
Elsner said the district proposed implementing the pay-schedule change, retroactive to March 1. He said that change in the pay matrix would have represented an overall pay boost of 2.54% to the district's 1,100 teachers. The cost to Orange Unified for the 2.54% pay increase would be $1,072,000, Elsner said.
District's Matrix Offer
"The district also offered to fund the (revised) matrix for the full school year next year, and that would cost an additional 3.76%," Elsner said.
He said the district agreed to pay all the health and welfare costs through the end of the current school year and to pay costs next school year up to $3,622 per teacher.
Elsner said the average cost per teacher for health and welfare benefits this school year is about $3,400.
"We don't know how much costs might rise next fall, but we can't afford to write a blank check for this," he said.
Elsner said the union, in its last demand, had also insisted that the school district repay a $422,000 surplus in a health and welfare trust account tapped by the school board last fall to pay increases in benefits for the current school year.
Rona on Wednesday acknowledged that the union has asked for the $422,000 repayment plus the $600,000 extra money in the combination bonus and added pay.
"Our belief is that they can get the money," Rona said.
Elsner, however, said Orange Unified is limited by the amount of money given by the state, and the state gave an increase of just 2.54% to schools this year. He said the union's demands would cost almost twice the $1,072,000, or 2.54%, in new money the district has available for pay raises this year.
Meanwhile, in the adjoining Santa Ana Unified School District, the school board also tried to keep a pay raise for teachers within 2.54% this school year. But after a strike threat and two sickouts in that district, the school board this week approved a proposed 5% one-time bonus for the teachers this school year, plus a 7% regular pay raise next year.
The Santa Ana teachers are scheduled to vote at their schools Friday and Monday on whether they will accept that offer. Teacher salaries in the Santa Ana district range from $20,670 to $41,383.