COMPTON — A state fact-finding report says the Compton Unified School District, which claimed it is facing a $2.27-million budget shortfall this year, actually can afford to spend 12.2% more on teachers salaries than it is spending this year.
The report also said district officials either engaged in "deliberate deceit" or were displaying incompetence by claiming that the district is facing a deficit this year, while showing no signs of trying to curb spending.
The financial data submitted by the district was "irreconcilable" with the district's spending habits, according to the report, which was written by attorney Joe H. Henderson, a Santa Rosa arbitrator who was chairman of the three-member panel. The report was released Tuesday.
The report said the financial data supplied by the school district contained a number of inconsistencies that made the district's financial condition seem worse than it actually is.
The district, for example, claimed that it was forced to spend its own money to modernize school buildings because the state cancelled a program that provided such financing. The state, however, did not cancel the program, according to the report.
The report also questioned the district's claim that it was short millions of dollars in two self-insurance funds. The report said school officials admitted that the shortfalls were only paper projections based on what might happen if the district lost every claim filed against it.
The three-member fact-finding panel was formed in December at the request of the district, after negotiations and efforts by a state mediator did not resolve salary issues that have left teachers working all year without a contract. The impasse has been marked in recent weeks by sporadic, one-day sickouts by teachers at different schools.
One member of the fact-finding panel was chosen by the teachers, another by the district. The chairman, Henderson, was appointed by the state.
Teachers union leaders were buoyed by the report but acting Superintendent Elisa L. Sanchez called it "outrageous and irresponsible in (its) attack on the board, this community and the staff."
Sanchez said she had hoped that the fact-finding process would help resolve differences between the district and its teachers. "I'm very disappointed that any professional member of any panel would use this process to attempt to discredit people and the community," she said.
Henderson declined to comment.
The district's representative on the panel, Assistant Supt. Thurman C. Johnson, filed a minority report that said: "It is apparent . . . the chair has placed a great deal of reliance on the financial data presented by the union and chose not to research or validate the evidence and explanations provided by the district."
The report is not legally binding, but union leaders said they would use it to press for a favorable contract settlement.
"They asked for the fact-finder. . . . We expect them to live up to what the fact-finder has said," Muriel Brooks, president of the Compton Education Assn., said Tuesday after the report was released.
"We have maintained for the last year and a half that the district has money and the ability to pay and we will be demanding that they pay," she said.
The union, which represents about 1,400 teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors in the district, was drafting a letter to the board of education demanding that its representatives return to the bargaining table with the teachers. The two parties have not met since October, said Wiley Jones, executive director of the CEA.
"The district has a moral obligation to the children of this community to promote labor harmony," said Jones. "If the district ignores a demand to bargain it is going to generate more distrust and an adversarial position between the union and the district."
Throughout the dispute, the district has not altered its initial offer to the teachers--a three-year contract with 6% raises each year. The teachers, however, want a comprehensive revision of the pay scales to favor experienced teachers over entry-level teachers.
The union claims that the district is deliberately trying to drive experienced teachers out of Compton so that new, lower-paid teachers can be hired. Last year, 154 teachers left the district to seek higher-paying jobs elsewhere. The union says a similar flight will occur next year if the district does not agree to raise pay for experienced teachers.
"The district," said the report, "has been compelled to increase the starting salaries to attract new teachers." Raises for experienced teachers, however, have been lower overall, the report said.
Under the union proposal, which was essentially supported by the fact-finding report, the salary of a teacher with about 14 years of experience would go from about $37,000 to about $45,000. The salary of a starting teacher would go from $23,226 to $24,155. Teachers would get different percentage raises, depending on their level of experience.
Overall, the salary cost to the district would be a 12.2% hike this year. The fact-finding report recommended a two-year contract that would include a 7.5% across-the-board raise next year. The union was asking for a one-year contract.
The fact-finding report said Compton teachers are among the lowest paid in the county. According to the report, for example, the maximum salary for a Compton teacher is $37,575, while the average for the top 10 districts in Los Angeles County is $44,569.