ABC SCHOOL DISTRICT — Teachers plan to walk off the job Friday in the ABC Unified School District after the school board voted this week to impose a contract that teachers had overwhelmingly rejected.
Board members approved the contract 4 to 3 near the conclusion of a stormy 6 1/2-hour meeting Tuesday. Before voting, the board majority rejected calls from teachers and some board members for renewed negotiations.
"There is no more money," board President Catherine Grant said soberly. "We have done everything we can."
Grant then voted for what the board called its "last, best and final offer," but officials harbored no illusions about the consequences.
"Since we have nothing to negotiate with, we have to believe the strike will be an extended one," Supt. Larry L. Lucas said. "In my five years at ABC, no event has saddened me or concerned me more.
"You will be subjecting yourself to financial loss and our children to disruption of their educational process," he told teachers.
Teachers were no more optimistic and no less resolute.
"There is a time to say we will not take injustice anymore," said Laura Rico, co-president of the ABC Federation of Teachers. "We asked for a meeting. We are willing to meet. It's on your shoulders.
"We will go on strike Friday morning, Oct. 22nd," Rico said. Teachers and their supporters cheered.
The school system of 21,000 students serves Cerritos, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens and parts of surrounding cities.
About 200 teachers, parents and students crowded into a board room designed for half that many. Hundreds more milled just outside, prompting officials to move the meeting to the Gahr High School gym.
More than 700 spectators made the move. They pounded the bleacher floorboards with their feet to applaud more than 25 speakers who vilified the board majority and Supt. Lucas.
The critics included board members Sally Morales Havice and David Montgomery, are running for reelection Nov. 2 and have been endorsed by the teachers union. Grant also is among the six candidates running for three board seats. The teachers union has backed Howard Kwon in an effort to unseat Grant.
Another dissenter, Trustee Cecy Groom got cheers for needling Grant. "Mrs. Grant, you're running for reelection," Groom said. "Do you want to be elected again?"
Grant and other trustees listened stoically. Board member Dixie Primosch finally responded just before the vote.
"I am a parent. I have a student in this district," Primosch said. "I am not cold-hearted. . . . It would not be prudent for me to say, 'Let's go back to the table,' with false hopes."
The latest impasse marks the low point of a deteriorating relationship between the teachers and the administration. The last two years have seen heated disputes over contracts, budget cuts and administrative salaries, but never has the district come so close to a strike.
The board and union leaders agreed on a tentative contract July 30 after months of tense negotiations.
Before teachers even voted on the agreement, it began to unravel.
The district recently received word that it had about $1.8 million more than originally estimated. Teachers said these funds should be used to restore contract concessions.
District officials countered that the surplus is illusory and will probably be consumed by previous contract commitments and a state funding shortfall.
The district will not know until February if money will be left over to adjust the teachers' contract, Lucas said.
The $1.8 million in additional funds comes from a variety of sources, including higher than anticipated state funding for summer school, programs for disabled students and general purpose grants, said Assistant Supt. Patricia Koch. Lottery revenues also came in about $300,000 above earlier estimates.
It all adds up to a windfall that should be made available to teachers, whose contract expired July 1, said union leaders. They urged their 1,300 members to reject the tentative contract.
On Monday, teachers cast ballots with two options. One choice was to accept the tentative contract. The other choice was to reject the contract and prepare for a Friday walk out.
About 74% of the teachers who cast ballots voted to strike. Union leaders declined to say exactly how many teachers voted, but Rico said participation was well above 50%.
Under the contract, the teachers' work year is reduced by three days, which cuts their pay by about 1.5%. The contract would not shorten the academic year for students, but eliminates days teachers used to have for preparation and training.
The contract also slightly increases average and maximum class sizes, a move that lowers payrolls costs.
In addition, the settlement reduces health benefits by requiring teachers to pay $5 for doctor visits. Teachers had paid nothing for doctor visits before, Deputy Supt. Ira Toibin said.
None of these concessions is necessary given the increased district budget, said union leader Rico. The union doesn't accept the district's contention that more money is not available.
The district has prepared for its first teachers strike by lining up substitutes and doubling their pay from $100 to $200 a day. The district also will install a security guard at every elementary school. Officials have set up a telephone information line for parents and employees. The number is (310) 921-6633.
Teachers, who earn an average of $41,500 a year or about $230 a day, will have their pay docked for any days missed. They also will have the cash value of their health benefits deducted from their paychecks for lost days.