WEST COVINA — Claiming that they were shortchanged by this year's pay raise, teachers have filed a lawsuit against the troubled West Covina Unified School District, which has been beset by protests over its decision earlier this year to close four schools.
District officials denied that the 3% increase violated the terms of the teachers' three-year contract and said that if the teachers' suit prevails, it will cost the district $200,000.
The school board discussed the suit in closed session at its meeting Tuesday night. At the same meeting, it accepted a $3-million cash bid for the El Dorado Elementary School site.
Despite the lawsuit and renewed opposition over the decision to close the schools, officials say they are moving steadily toward bringing the financially strapped district back into the black.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 15, 1988 Home Edition San Gabriel Valley Part 10 Page 2 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
A caption in Thursday's San Gabriel Valley section incorrectly identified Wescove Elementary School as one of four schools that will be closed by the West Covina Unified School District. The board had considered closing either Wescove, Orangewood or California elementary school, but has since indicated that it will try to avoid closing another school.
If escrow on the school sale closes as expected July 1, the district may be able to use the proceeds to pay the first installment of a $3.3-million bail-out loan from the state.
Before the meeting, about 75 people picketed outside the district office, protesting the school closures.
"This is really beginning to be a roller-coaster," said Supt. Jane D. Gawronski, noting the district's turbulent fortunes.
"It's up and down," said school board President Joe Mount, who was elected in November after the deficit was made public. Mount and board member William J. Brutocao, who was also elected in November, are the targets of a recall drive mounted by disgruntled parents.
"We knew there were going to be a lot of tough decisions . . . but I think there is light at the end of the tunnel," Mount said.
Forced to Borrow
The district has been beset by financial problems since the 1986-87 school year, when it was forced to borrow the $3.3 million from the state to cover a deficit.
After months of turmoil, the board decided in February to turn Edgewood High School into a middle school and close Hollencrest and Willowood intermediate schools and Cortez Elementary school to cut costs for the 1988-89 school year.
It was that decision, which ran counter to a district advisory board's recommendation, that spawned the recall efforts and community opposition.
On Monday, district officials were notified of the lawsuit over the raise teachers got for the current school year.
The teachers, represented by the California Teachers Assn. and the Teachers Assn. of West Covina, say they should have received a 4.65% increase for this school year instead of the 3% they got. Charles R. Gustafson, the attorney representing the teachers, said the issue will probably come before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in June, although no court date has been set.
According to the three-year contract's complicated triggering formula, which ties salaries to district revenue, teachers would receive a maximum increase of 6% if district revenues rose by at least that much. If revenues rose by less than 6%, lottery funds would be added to determine teachers' raises.
In the two previous years covered by the contract, teachers received 6% increases.
The teachers contend that the district calculated revenues for the first two years without including lottery funds. However, in computing revenues for this year, the district added lottery funds to the revenue totals for the two previous years. Because general revenues were down this year and lottery funds were included in calculating the two previous years' base figure, total revenues increased only enough to justify a 3% raise, according to the district.
The teachers contend that if the lottery funds had not been added to the two previous years' revenue total--which they say was forbidden by the contract--their raise would have been calculated at 4.65%.
H. C. Tanner, the assistant superintendent for business services who assumed management of the district's budget in October, confirmed that he included lottery funds in calculating increases.
Regarding the El Dorado School sale, Mount said those proceeds could ease next year's budget problems and be used to repair the district's remaining schools. Gawronski has estimated that the district needs to cut $2.7 million from its budget to balance the books.
But before the money from school sales can be used, the district must receive approval from the State Allocations Board on May 25. Such funds usually must go to pay off bond obligations.
Lewis Homes Management Corp. of Upland made the high bid on the 10-acre El Dorado site on Azusa Avenue near Cortez Street. The bid is higher than the board's minimum price of $2.5 million but substantially lower than the $8.5-million bid the district accepted in April for the Tonopah Elementary School site.
Unlike the Tonopah sale, which will be paid off in installments over four years, Lewis Homes must come up with the $3 million by July 1, Tanner said. He said he does not foresee any problems in closing the deal on time.