Caught in a tug of war over money, the administrators at Rio Hondo College and members of the faculty association will meet Friday at the negotiating table, trying once again to resolve their differences in a lengthy teachers' contract dispute.
The two sides said they are not expecting a speedy solution to the six-month-long disagreement that centers mostly on salary increases for the faculty. The teachers, whose contract expired on June 30, are requesting an immediate 12% raise and an additional 18% over the next two years. College administrators are offering an immediate 6.5% raise and a 12% increase for 1990-92.
Coupled with disagreements over employee benefits and salary increases for part-time faculty, the two sides are about $1 million apart.
If an agreement is not reached by Friday, the two sides will try again next week. After that they have the option of requesting a fact-finding report by an outside consultant on which solution is the best.
Owen Newcomer, president of the Rio Hondo College Faculty Assn., said he is hopeful the two sides can reach an agreement without a strike, but he said teacher morale is plummeting.
"We are in a crisis situation now," Newcomer said. "Everyone had expected a settlement. Morale is way down. . . . For the last month and a half, we have just barely been treading water."
The teachers are planning to wear blue armbands on campus as a sign of protest, Newcomer said.
According to administrators, the strife is fueled largely by disagreements over how the community college should spend or save its money.
Tim Wood, vice president for administrative affairs, said the college, which had traditionally operated on a tight budget, has a surplus of about $2.5 million. He said the money is considered "savings" and was raised partially from the Lottery.
"We have a budget of about $30 million," Wood said. "A $2.5-million reserve is a reasonable amount."
But the faculty claims that the $2.5 million is too much money to have left over and it should be given to teachers, who for years went without their fair share because of the college's slim budget.
"The college has adequate financial sources to satisfy our reasonable requests and do the other things it wants to do," Newcomer said.
Wood called the teachers' request "impractical."
"Just because we have the money this year does not mean we will have it next year," Wood said. "It is one-time money," and the faculty's proposed contract would require the funds to be available year after year.
He also said the Rio Hondo teachers' salary currently ranks seventh among 71 community colleges throughout the state.
"In the past we may not have fared well, but that is not the case right now," Wood said. "It is dollars that separate us. We are still far apart."