Having failed to win pay raises through silence, teachers in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District turned up the volume on their protest Wednesday with a one-day strike.
Supt. James E. Johnson said 70% of the district's 865 classroom teachers and 30% of its 22,000 students were out of school for the day. The teachers' union claimed an even higher level of support for the strike, asserting that 85% of the 1,200 employees it represents, including classroom teachers, honored the picket lines.
The district and teachers have reached tentative agreement on a 9% pay raise under a contract that would run through the next school year.
The issues in dispute are whether the increase should be retroactive to May, as the district has offered, or to April, as demanded by the teachers, and whether the pay increase should be tied to district revenue. The district wants a clause in the contract that would lower the pay increase if state support of education is cut below the anticipated amount.
In addition, coaches at three high schools have refused to work after school until their demands for increased compensation for coaching are met. The spring sports seasons have already ended.
Teachers in the district, which operates schools in Hacienda Heights, La Puente and the City of Industry, have been working without a contract since last summer. In March, they staged a "day of silent protest," holding classes but refusing to talk to students and administrators. They also have protested by wearing black clothes and yellow armbands, picketing school district offices and appearing en masse at a school board meeting.
Hired 150 Substitutes
"We really ran out of nice things to do," said Ray Lopp, executive director of the Hacienda La Puente Teachers Assn., explaining the decision to stay off the job for a day.
The district hired 150 substitute teachers at $175 each to replace the striking teachers.
Johnson said the day off without pay will cost teachers the equivalent of half the money they would gain if the district meets their demand to make the 9% pay raise retroactive to April instead of May.
But Lopp said: "I don't think this strike is about money. It's about dignity." He said teachers resent the long delay in resolving the contract. "People don't want to be treated like this."
Walking a picket line at Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, Jim Pate, a mathematics teacher who has been with the school district for 27 years, said teachers are tired of being the district's lowest priority. He said the school board budgets everything else and "what's left, they give the teachers."
Carol Tebbs, an English teacher at Wilson, said she and her husband, who teaches in Whittier, "brought home the same paycheck within pennies five years ago, but now he brings home $200 more a month."
Hacienda La Puente has fallen behind, she said, because the school district has avoided tough, politically sensitive decisions about closing schools and reducing staff as enrollment has fallen.
Johnson said the district recognizes that its salaries have not kept pace. But, he said, the 9% pay raise offered to teachers would greatly improve the district's position. The proposed salary schedule would range from $20,343 to $42,534. The top salary currently is $2,623 a year below top pay in the neighboring Rowland Unified School District, but the 9% raise would narrow the gap to $943 a year.
Johnson said the district has closed eight schools in the past decade. Enrollment has fallen from 32,000 in 1970 to 22,000 today, but Johnson said the district is reluctant to close more schools because enrollment has leveled off. In fact, he said, the district expects enrollment to increase by 3,000 students in the next 10 years.
All 33 schools in the district remained open Wednesday but operated on a shortened schedule set in anticipation of the strike. Johnson said about 80% of the elementary school students and half the high school students were in class.
At Wilson High School, Jennifer Snyder, a 16-year-old sophomore, said her parents told her that she had the option of staying home or going to school. She chose to skip classes. "If the teachers aren't going to teach, why should I be there?" she asked.
Wilson High Principal John Rieckewald said the school made no attempt to run regular classes, but showed educational films and videos. "I don't think it was a complete waste of time," he said.
'I Got Nothing'
But Matt Clementz, a 16-year-old junior who will be student body president at Wilson next year, said: "It was an incredible waste of time." He said he spent three hours watching a videotape on earthquake preparedness. "I got nothing out of today."
Two seniors, Jack Fong and Derek Higa, said they wanted to leave school when they saw what was awaiting them for the day but could not. "We were POWs--prisoners of Wilson," said Higa.
Higa said he arrived at school expecting to take an advanced-placement English test. Instead, he said, he saw videotapes about former President John F. Kennedy. "I saw Kennedy die three times," he complained.
Barry Pitts, a teacher at Shadybend Elementary School and president of the teachers association, said teachers will return to the classroom today. The next bargaining session is scheduled June 2.
Johnson said the district will try to block any further strikes by asking the state Public Employment Relations Board to seek a court injunction on grounds that a work stoppage cannot occur while teachers and the district are trying to resolve their dispute through mediation and impasse procedures specified by state law.