COMPTON — At least 47 teachers will probably lose some pay because they walked off the job at Compton High School last week after the school's water supply was cut off, says the superintendent of the Compton Unified School District.
The president of the teachers union insists, however, that the teachers left because students did not come to school after a water main was ruptured, leaving the campus without running water for three days.
Supt. Ted. D. Kimbrough said the district arranged to have bottled water and portable toilets delivered to the high school so classes could continue. But Pat Ryan, president of the Compton Teachers Assn., said the toilets did not arrive until Friday, three days after water was cut off.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Kimbrough, said four toilets were delivered to the high school the afternoon of Feb. 22, a Wednesday, and that six more were delivered last Thursday morning. However, the day after Kimbrough was interviewed the district's public information director, Naomi Rainey, said district purchasing records show that the first portable toilets were not delivered until last Thursday. Compton High Principal Charles Watkins also said the first portables arrived Thursday. Students and teachers walked four blocks to school district offices to use bathrooms before the portables arrived, he said.
The water main was ruptured accidentally late Feb. 21, a Tuesday, by demolition crews tearing down the school's old stadium, Kimbrough said. At first, district officials said, workmen assured them the main would be repaired by Wednesday morning. When school officials learned the next day that it would take days to repair the main, they ordered portable toilets, Kimbrough said. Water was restored over the weekend.
The students, says Ryan, were upset by the water crisis and started leaving the school grounds the first day.
"The minute they found out there was a problem there was chaos," she said, adding that on subsequent days, "good kids didn't come to school. It was pretty upsetting for most of the kids."
On Thursday morning, Ryan said, eight students attended one of her first two classes, and six showed up for the other. "My classes run 30 to 35 (students). I teach Spanish and my kids come to class. They were not there on Thursday and Friday," she said.
Ryan does not dispute Kimbrough's charge that many teachers left school before the end of the day. But she said that they left because of the water situation and because students were not in school.
Watkins said that the students came to school and that there was no chaos. "We have good kids," he said. Even though some teachers left in the middle of the school day, Watkins said, the teachers that stayed took up the slack by taking into their classrooms those students who didn't have a teacher or by setting up study sessions for the students.
1,400 Students There
Kimbrough said the high school staff reported that 1,400 students were in school Thursday during the second classroom period, in which attendance is taken, compared to the average daily attendance of about 1,630. Oscar Saragosa, who is in charge of the high school's attendance office, said he does not know how many students came to school during the three days.
Kimbrough said that last Thursday, the only day for which he had attendance figures, an estimated 47 teachers walked off campus, 39 teachers stayed on duty, and four had called in sick earlier in the day.
The teachers should have remained for the full day, regardless of whether the students were there, Kimbrough said. "By state law," he said, "the superintendent and the school board are the only ones that can close a school and that did not happen."
If a review shows that the teachers were absent from their classes without an excuse such as illness, Kimbrough said, he has no choice under state law but to dock their pay.
The district gets about $23 a day from the state for each student who comes to school, the superintendent said. If the school had been closed, Kimbrough acknowledged, the district would probably have lost that money.
But money, he insisted, was not the primary issue. "Very, very simply, there was no reason to close the school down," he said. "Once the kids come to school you have a responsibility to educate them. . . . You have to give people notification (if) school is going to be closed. Parents send their kids to school in good faith. We can't just close down and send them home."
If the district tries to penalize the teachers, Ryan said, the union will fight the action. So far, she said, no teachers have been notified that they are losing pay.