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Auditor Corrects School District Figures

County official says he made miscalculation during a town hall meeting to discuss dispute with teachers.

May 26, 2000|MARISSA ESPINO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Orange County Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom says he gave incorrect financial information during a Wednesday night town hall meeting about the contract dispute between the Orange Unified School District and its teachers.

Sundstrom, who was one of the speakers at the public forum attended by about 180 teachers and parents, has two children in the district and has studied the district's audited financial report for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"I made a miscalculation on the spot and I had not realized what I had done until I got home and referred to my notes," said Sundstrom, who said he would correct his statements during Thursday night's school board meeting.

Sundstrom said the correct version is that the district has about $2 million available for increases in teacher salaries.

Neglecting to factor in a raise given for the 1998-99 school year, he mistakenly told the audience that considerably more than that was available.

On March 14, the Orange school board unilaterally imposed a contract that included those raises and dropped a demand that teachers sell away their rights to lifetime medical coverage.

Afterward, frustrated teachers walked off the job for one day. They are still paid well below what most teachers in the county earn.

"We were disappointed that word came back to us that Mr. Sundstrom presented some numbers that were in fact already earmarked, but today we understand he is going to correct his figures," district spokeswoman Judy Frutig said. "We applaud him for his forthrightness in making the correction and clearing the air."

No school district officials attended Wednesday's meeting at Orange City Hall, which was packed with concerned residents. The meeting was organized by Orange City Councilman Michael Alvarez and the Informed Parents Assn.

"We had a lot of outstanding questions for the district that couldn't be answered," Alvarez said. "I think they really missed an opportunity to talk with concerned residents."

Besides Alvarez, union leaders John Rossmann and Bill Shanahan, Chapman University representative Jim Brown and Councilman Dan Slater answered questions from the audience, which covered such things as teacher health benefits, the hiring of uncredentialed teachers and district finances.

Alvarez read a letter to the audience from school board President Linda Davis, in which she stated that Alvarez was not a neutral host because he participated in a teacher strike last month.

She said district officials said they did not believe a constructive discussion of the issues would occur because of past experience.

Last week, the California Public Employment Relations Board announced that a state mediator would be appointed to try to resolve the standoff.

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

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