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Schools Dispute: 1 Side Will Be a No-Show

District officials will boycott a town hall meeting on their contract standoff with teachers, saying they weren't consulted.

May 22, 2000|MARISSA ESPINO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Orange Unified School District officials said a Wednesday night town hall meeting to discuss the contract dispute with the Orange Unified Education Assn. will take place without district representation because school officials were not appropriately notified or involved with organizing the meeting.

"We were never part of the planning," said Linda Davis, school board president. "In my opinion, it's another attempt to discredit the board and the district, and it undermines the collective bargaining process. We [on the board] are very approachable. If there are any questions, they can contact us."

Orange City Councilman Michael Alvarez announced to the public May 12 that he and Barbara Wilson, head of the recently established Informed Parents Assn., would hold a community forum Wednesday so residents could learn about the long-stalled negotiations between the teachers union and district.

On March 14, the school board imposed a contract that included an 8% raise over two years and demanded that teachers sell away their rights to lifetime medical coverage. Frustrated because they are paid well below the county median for public teachers, the union staged a one-day walkout last month.

"I can understand the district's position, but this isn't a debate. It is a town hall meeting to have dialogue with our community," Alvarez said. "I think what I want to get out of it is to get the community behind the effort to resolve this but not to divide up who is for or against the teachers or district."

Davis sent a letter to Alvarez and Wilson on Thursday giving reasons why the district would not attend the forum.

Davis stated that Alvarez was not a neutral host for the meeting because he participated in last month's strike, and, because the meeting was planned without district participation, district officials did not believe a constructive discussion of the issues would occur. Officials said they also were not informed about the meeting in a timely manner.

Alvarez acknowledged that he joined the picket lines during the strike and said he is concerned about so many teachers leaving the district. He also said members of the Informed Parents Assn. were still trying to encourage school board members to attend the meeting.

"I wanted it to be a level playing field," he said. "If only one side is represented, we just won't have a panel."

District spokeswoman Judy Frutig said the California Public Employment Relations Board announced Friday that the agency will appoint a state mediator to try to resolve the standoff.

"We believe that is the way to go instead of opening contract talks to a divisive public session," Frutig said.

Union representatives could not be immediately reached for comment.

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Marissa Espino can be reached at (714) 966-5879.

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