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Pact Approval Monday Would Negate Strike Vote by Teachers

April 30, 1993|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Los Angeles school district teachers, in an expression of intense frustration over a prolonged contract fight, voted overwhelmingly to strike May 7 if the school board has not ratified their pact by then.

With nearly all 19,711 ballots counted late Thursday afternoon, about 83% of union teachers, counselors and school nurses voted to walk off their jobs.

With the school board set to approve the contract Monday, United Teachers-Los Angeles President Helen Bernstein predicted that a strike will not occur and called the vote a strong reflection of dispirited teachers' anger with the district.

"I believe that the contract is going to be ratified . . . and there will be no need to strike," Bernstein said. "But what I am so concerned with is the morale. It's like they still love teaching but hate their jobs. I don't know how we are ever going to recover from this. . . . I don't think it's ever going to be OK again."

It is the fourth time in seven months that teachers union members flocked to the ballot box for a strike-related vote, and with each vote, many teachers say, their anger has increased.

"I get more and more depressed when I think about all this," said Ellen Erlinso, 39, a teacher at 10th Street Elementary School. "I don't want to go into work. I just go into my classroom and shut the door and I'm OK when I'm with the kids. But on my way in, on my way home, I just feel very, very depressed."

The pact, forged by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) after negotiations deadlocked, calls for a 10% salary reduction, although the district originally imposed a cumulative 12% cut. Although teachers won several important school empowerment issues, including the right to choose most class assignments by seniority, it is the stinging pay cut that has left them demoralized.

School board President Leticia Quezada said that a majority of the school board is "committed to the contract" and will approve it Monday.

Also, a glitch remains that could, in a worst-case scenario, potentially derail the scheduled Monday vote. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Assn. will decide this afternoon whether it will again seek to block approval of the contract on the grounds that the district cannot afford its $36-million cost.

Last week, the watchdog group won a temporary court order barring the school board from approving the contract on the grounds that state and constitutional laws prevent local governments from spending more money than they have.

But with a last-minute infusion of $35.1 million of state funds, the group agreed Wednesday to drop the lawsuit on the condition that it could interview under oath district Budget Director Henry Jones and county schools Supt. Stuart Gothold. Joel Fox, president of the Jarvis group, said that it wants assurances from top school officials that the district will end the year in the black.

Fox declined to comment Thursday on the deposition with Jones, who said this week that the new funds will enable the district to pay all its bills this year.

Gothold said in an interview Thursday that with the new cash and about $6 million in increased lottery revenue, "I have no problem" with board approval of the contract.

He said if the Jarvis group has concerns about the district's ability to pay for the pact this year, "I don't know what it could be. The Jarvis people are asking, is the district making an agreement that would make them insolvent. . . . From what I've seen, the answer is no."

He also said that another major financial concern--that the district would have no funds to pay for the contract next year--appears to have been removed. The $35.1 million in new money comes from unspent state desegregation funds. These funds will probably be available to the district again next year because they are associated with its court-supervised desegregation program.

"The one thing that I was most concerned about has not come to pass," said Gothold, who under state law must ensure that the district does not go bankrupt. "They are not using one-time funds to pay for what will be a recurring expense."

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