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L.A. Teachers Pact Complicates Talks in Other Districts

June 29, 1989|SPENCER S. HSU | Times Staff Writer

In the shadow of the mammoth settlement reached last month by Los Angeles teachers, officials with the Beverly Hills, Culver City and Santa Monica-Malibu school districts are predicting slow going in contract and salary talks that will continue through the summer.

While the latest round of negotiations offers no startling developments from either side, expectations raised by the 24% salary increase over three years won by Los Angeles teachers have solidified local teachers' demands. District administrators say such a reaction is to be expected, but repeat that fiscal realities are grim.

"The (Los Angeles) settlement is way, way above what this district can afford to offer our teachers, and that of course puts us in a difficult position," said Culver City schools Supt. Kurt Rethmeyer.

Time for Talks

Between now and mid-August, Culver City and Beverly Hills unified school districts will reopen discussions on annual salary and benefit provisions, as guaranteed in the districts' existing contracts. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is negotiating a new contract to replace a two-year pact that expires Friday.

The Los Angeles settlement was made possible in part by a projected state budget surplus, caused by an unexpected surge in tax revenue, of $2.5 billion. The smaller districts also will receive a share of this, although the precise amount each district receives won't be known for several weeks.

Even with the state windfall, however, local administrators doubt that they will have enough money to satisfy their teachers.

"There's going to be a reluctance (by teachers) to accept the fact of our financial situation," Rethmeyer said.

Culver City, the smallest of the three Westside districts, may face the tightest financial crunch. Saddled with a declining enrollment and the subsequent reduction in state aid, the district has had to cut or reduce numerous programs. The Culver City Teachers Assn. (CCTA) says that its teachers' pay ranking has fallen from second among Los Angeles County's 45 school districts to 38th over the past 12 years.

"Our teachers are angry, too. We want to work . . . we want to be appreciated, we want to be paid," said Bess Doerr, CCTA president. Doerr says, although the union won a 6% raise last year, that boost only began to counteract years of much lower increases or periods when teachers were given bonuses instead of base-rate increases.

This year, second in a three-year contract, teachers opened talks two weeks ago asking for an 8% raise. The district, which has 4,600 students and an annual budget of around $20 million, has responded with a 2% offer.

"We're willing to cooperate, but we also want to be paid and respected," Doerr said. Referring to the state funds made available by the state's surge in tax revenue and the landmark public school funding measure approved last November, she said: "Proposition 98 passed, and there is a surplus."

Good Communications

Doerr also praised the district's open lines for communication. In an interview, she took pains to avoid threatening a job action, such as the work stoppage and picketing by Culver City teachers three years ago.

"The Los Angeles settlement really perked us up. The teachers were up jumping in the hall," she said, "We've been inspired by Los Angeles, and we do expect (the district) to work with us."

Rethmeyer said, however, that the Los Angeles settlement was partly a product of rapid enrollment growth, which brought an increase in state funding. He said that because of the enrollment drop in Culver City, the district's increase in state aid might be as little as 1.4%.

"I think all the parties are going to be disappointed, I guess that's what it boils down to," Rethmeyer said. He said that higher pay was the key to attracting good teachers, and that the alternative would be a "continuing deterioration" of the education system.

In the Beverly Hills Unified School District, hopes are that teachers and administrators' shared frustration at state funding uncertainties will help settle their dispute. In June, 1987, the district barely avoided a strike through last-minute negotiations after 92% of teachers with the Beverly Hills Education Assn. (BHEA) voted to authorize a walkout. A year earlier, teachers picketed at the threat of job cuts.

"We are not blaming one another, accusing one another," said Robert French, Beverly Hills Unified School District superintendent. "It's the frustration that the funding of our schools is out of our control, it's with the state Legislature. I think we both understand that."

He added that, in any event, the district could not match the Los Angeles offer.

Terms in Beverly Hills

"I have a problem understanding the idea of an 8 plus 8 plus 8 (percent, three-year salary increase) in the cold world of a 4.6," French said, referring to a percentage by which many local observers were speculating that state funding would rise.

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