EL MONTE — The superintendent of the Mountain View School District, which is in a contract dispute with employees, has come under criticism over what disgruntled teachers say is a lavish bill for redecorating his office.
A partial bill of $11,909 for furniture and carpet installation in Supt. Julian T. Lopez's office was approved by the school board this month. At the same time, the district is stuck in a labor impasse involving the amount of annual pay increases for teachers and program cutbacks.
A state-appointed fact finder has been called in to review the district's financial situation and will eventually make a non-binding recommendation to the school board on resolving the pay dispute. At the same time, a group of 120 elementary school teachers have filed grievances against the district over the reassignment of three physical-education instructors, which teachers say has left them overworked and jeopardized student safety.
The leader of the teachers' union criticized Lopez for lacking financial perspective.
Not a Luxury
"What we object to is not the fact that he is redecorating the office but that he is redecorating at the students' and teachers' expense," said Kathleen Hoolihan, president of the 314-member Mountain View Teachers Assn. and a teacher at Cogswell Elementary School. "There are three or four (purchase orders) which total about $13,000, and we don't think that's all of the cost of redecorating his office."
Lopez, who became superintendent in July, bristled at the suggestion that redoing his office was a luxury.
"It's ridiculous," Lopez said of the teachers' charges. "We are bargaining and negotiating. What does that really have to do with buying furniture?"
Robert Beavers, the district's associate superintendent for business services, said the changes were made to accommodate Lopez, a nonsmoker, moving into an office occupied by the previous superintendent, who chain-smoked.
Defending the changes for health reasons, Lopez said: "There's not enough money in the world to subject myself to that kind of exposure."
The superintendent acknowledged that the district's financial priorities have shifted since he took over but argued that the changes have benefited students with increased educational activities. The cuts the teachers are objecting to have diverted funds to new programs that directly benefit the 8,484 students in the district, he said.
"One of the things I've done is pump money into the schools and encouraged them to take field trips," he said.
Besides field trips, Lopez said, the district is moving to replace temporary trailers with permanent portable buildings on the district's crowded campuses.
As part of a pay adjustment for the last year of a three-year contract, the district had offered a 2% increase for the school year that started in September, contingent upon the teachers surrendering 30 minutes of class preparation time during the week. The teachers--who have asked for an 8.5% increase--refused, and the district implemented a 1.5% increase and restructured preparation time for elementary teachers.
Under the contract, elementary teachers are allowed two hours a week to prepare for their classes. Thirty minutes of that free time was guaranteed when the district provided three physical-education teachers in 1987-88 to take over each elementary teacher's physical-education class for one period a week.
But those physical-education instructors were reassigned this year, and the classroom teachers have had to double up their physical-education classes with a colleague's once a week to keep the 30 minutes as preparation time, Hoolihan said.
District officials said that classroom aides were added this year to help teachers supervise the double-size physical-education classes.
Lopez said that the district made the change in an attempt to find more efficient ways to operate and that he does not believe in having physical-education specialists supervise an elementary teacher's physical-education class.
In September, the teachers began doubling up on classes once a week. Since then, one student suffered a broken arm, and a teacher broke a leg. In each case, Hoolihan said, a single instructor was supervising a class of up to 70 children.
"One teacher out there with all those children isn't safe," Hoolihan said. "This may happen in any (staffing) situation, but the teachers feel it was the lack of adequate planning. We feel this program was arbitrarily cut to save money."
Because of the injuries, Hoolihan said, teachers at Cogswell have given up the preparation time to teach their own physical-education classes, five days a week. Hoolihan said the teachers' grievances against the district over the loss of the physical-education specialists will go before an arbitrator in March.
Lopez denied that the changes have had any effect on playground safety.
The physical-education specialists often taught more than one class at a time last year, Lopez said. "The only difference is it was someone else doing it other than the classroom teachers.
Lopez took umbrage with the teachers' allegations, which he said were unfounded and unbecoming.