Saying it would be fruitless to pursue shortening the school year without the support of its largest employee union, officials for the Los Angeles Unified School District said Monday they will withdraw a request asking the state's permission to implement such a plan.
United Teachers-Los Angeles officials said Monday that 81% of their members responding to a survey last week opposed pursuing a waiver necessary to reduce the school year at the district's more than 600 schools. Of the union's 30,000 members, 13,000 returned questionnaires, said UTLA President Helen Bernstein.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with changing the calendar," said Bernstein. "We have a problem in cutting people's salaries. We've made it clear we believe the district needs to deal with (cutting) administration. They need to reduce, redirect and redesign (the district's structure), or this board better resign."
Though shortening the school calendar by 17 days could have saved the financially beleaguered school system about $160 million, Supt. Bill Anton said the overwhelming rejection of the plan by UTLA members made seeking a waiver from the State Board of Education moot.
"We know we need the support of UTLA for a waiver," Anton said at a special meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Education. "The members have voted not to support the 163-day school year. (So) we cannot support the waiver action."
Anton recommended the shortened school year as one way of dealing with a fiscal crisis that is forcing the nation's second-largest school system to trim a minimum of $400 million from next year's budget.
The $160 million in savings would have come primarily from teacher and staff salaries, as well as from reduced transportation, utility and other daily expenses, officials said. Anton said he believed that the plan was one way of treating all employees equitably, avoiding layoffs and giving workers 17 days off in which to possibly supplement lost income with other jobs.
In response to Anton's recommendation, the school board voted last week to pursue the waiver, which would be necessary because the state education code allows the 163-day calendar only at severely overcrowded schools where students attend on a staggered, or "multitrack," schedule. The district had asked the state board to consider the waiver at its June 11 meeting.
But even if the state granted permission, the shortened school year could not have been implemented without UTLA's support. The school calendar as well as the 8.3% salary cut that would result from 17 days without pay are negotiable items under the union's contract.
Bernstein said officials have indicated that additional salary cuts might have been necessary, even if the membership agreed to the shortened school year. She added that the union will present its plan today for dealing with the budget crisis, including long-term alternatives for restructuring the district.
But Bernstein was booed by several people in the board room filled with representatives of several employee unions and parents groups who told the board that in a time of crisis, they were willing to accept a shortened school calendar and pay cut if it meant equitable sacrifice by all employees.
"A shortened school year is the best way to maintain equity," said Walter Backstrom of the Service Employees International Union Local 99. "We must all make sacrifices."
Norma Sand, a member of the California School Employees Assn., said she was tired of UTLA calling the shots.
"Why should UTLA govern my paycheck," said Sand, who said she supported the shortened school year. "They've had the bull by the horns for too long, and it's time the classified and other unions have more say."
In a related development, officials presented revised recommendations for possible cuts in the 1992-93 budget. Besides previously suggested reductions in administration, instruction and maintenance programs, Anton also proposed an additional $174.4 million in savings to be derived by deferring payments to employee funds, reducing the district's reserve and eliminating summer school.