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Teacher Raises to Cost District $4 Million

June 09, 1988|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

Officials with the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District have resolved a labor dispute with teachers, but they say they now must cut $4 million from the district's $130 million budget to offset the cost of the teachers' new contract.

After working without a contract for almost the entire school year, teachers last week approved a three-year pact calling for an 8.8% wage increase over the next two years.

The agreement, reached in talks with district negotiators and a state mediator last week, calls for a 1.8% raise for the fiscal year that ends June 30, retroactive to May 1. Teachers will then get a 7% increase over the next fiscal year. Salary levels for the third year of the contract will be negotiated next year.

Prior to the increase, salaries for classroom teachers in the district ranged from $20,265 to $39,170. After the increases have gone into effect, the range will be from $22,088 to $42,693.

Too Costly

Supt. James E. Johnson said that he believes the teachers deserved the pay increase, but that it is too costly for the district, which serves 23,000 students in Hacienda Heights, La Puente, Industry and Valinda.

"With a budget that's 80% to 85% people, if you give them a raise, it costs a lot of money," Johnson said. "Each 1% increase (in salaries) costs us $515,000."

Even after receiving a 4.1% cost of living adjustment from the state, the district will still be about $4 million short, Johnson said. To make up the shortfall, Johnson has proposed eliminating 100 classified positions--such as janitors and aides--and 40 certificated positions, including 13 1/2 classroom teacher positions.

Johnson explained his cost-cutting measures to the Hacienda La Puente school board at a study session Monday night. Residents will have their chance to comment on the superintendent's proposals at a public hearing tonight at 7:30 at Cederlane Junior High School in Hacienda Heights.

High Schools Affected

The cuts would primarily affect the district's high schools, where 11 1/2 teaching positions would be eliminated. Two of the district's seven junior high school music teachers also would be laid off.

Johnson said the pay increase was the latest problem for the financially strapped district. The most serious problem has been enrollment, which has decreased by almost 10,000 students since the district was unifed in 1970.

Johnson attributed the decline to high interest rates in the 1970s and early 1980s, which kept young families from buying homes in the district. The communities served by the district became older, with fewer households having school-age children.

Decreasing enrollment meant a drop in average daily attendance disbursements from the state. It also meant that the district hired few new teachers, Johnson said. It also meant that the district's existing personnel became more expensive to employ.

Many at Top of Scale

"Our staff is older," Johnson said. "Many of them are at the top of the pay schedule."

The cuts proposed by Johnson would affect many facets of the district's operation.

Librarians would be pressed into service as part-time teachers. Four bilingual education teaching positions would be eliminated. The district would employ fewer counselors, nurses and psychologists. Students taking physical education classes would have to provide their own towels, and athletic teams would have to provide their own transportation to games.

However, the most serious cuts would be the elimination of almost three classroom teaching positions at each of the district's four regular high schools. Johnson said these cuts became necessary last week when the district accepted the 8.8% salary increase for teachers. District negotiators had previously offered an 8.1% raise.

2 Labor Actions

"We cut everything else we could before going into the classroom," Johnson said. "But when we made that last jump from 8% (to 8.8%), we had no choice but to go into the classroom. We'd already cut everything else."

The new contract agreement was reached after the 1,200 members of the Hacienda La Puente Teachers Assn. staged two labor actions, including a "day of silence" in March, in which teachers worked without speaking. When that failed to budge district negotiators on key points of contention, the teachers staged a one-day strike last month.

Raymond Lopp, executive director of the Hacienda La Puente Teachers Assn., credited the strike with forcing the district to concede key positions, particularly a "deflator clause" that would have allowed the district to reduce the teachers' pay raise if the cost of living adjustment received from the state is less than 4.1%

Under another clause, if the district's revenues increase 0.5% or more as a result of voter initiatives to boost state spending for education, contract negotiations will be reopened to further raise teachers' pay. The contract includes higher stipends for coaching and other extracurricular duty and guarantees no reprisal for teachers involved in the strike.

Closer to Parity

Lopp said the salary increase will bring teachers in the Hacienda La Puente district closer to parity with educators in surrounding communities.

"The 9% (increase) on the schedule will bring us up to the same level as Rowland (Unified School District), but Rowland will go up again next year," Lopp said.

With the third year of the teachers' contract still to be negotiated, Johnson warned that a further salary increase may result in more budget paring.

"If we want to talk about giving a cost of living increase next year and maintain a 2% reserve, there may have to be some cuts--not this deep though," he said.

Amid the district's current fiscal crunch, Johnson said he sees a portent of better days.

"Our incoming kindergarten class is larger than our graduating seniors," he said. "We're not projecting growth next year, but over the next 10 years, we're projecting an increase of 3,000 students. And that's a conservative projection."

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