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Beverly Hills Teachers to Stay on Job

September 29, 2000|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Teachers next door in Los Angeles may be willing to strike over a 20% raise package they feel is too paltry.

But Beverly Hills teachers aren't even thinking about walking--even though they are working without a contract and this week were offered a mere 4% salary hike.

Why? The prestigious school system's 330 classroom instructors remember their one and only strike: a 13-day walkout in 1989 that left their city divided and them disillusioned.

"We never recovered financially or, more important, emotionally," Steve Taylor, current president of the Beverly Hills Education Assn., says of the contentious walkout.

"We went on strike for three weeks and got nothing. It was a poor choice on everybody's part."

Teachers have been bargaining over a new contract since April with the Beverly Hills Unified School District. They hope for at least a 10% boost to salaries, which now average about $51,000 a year.

"Around L.A. and the state they're offering 10% plus," Taylor said. "A plethora of school districts in L.A. County have settled for 10% plus: Palos Verdes, La Canada, El Segundo. The list goes on and on, with districts we're comparable to."

Beverly Hills teachers assumed that $1.2 million in extra cash from the state would lead to double-digit raises this year. The state encouraged school districts to pass the money on to teachers as compensation for tiny pay increases received during the recession of the 1990s.

"Did we get the money? You bet. But are we sitting on it in a savings account? Absolutely not. We had a lot of debts left over from last year we have to pay off," said John Tennant, an assistant superintendent heading Beverly Hills' negotiations in contract talks. But even with the extra state money, his district's $44-million budget shows a $200,000 deficit, he said.

Until they upped the ante this week, Beverly Hills officials were offering a 3% raise. But "it's not done; we have a lot of work to do," Tennant said.

Neither Tennant nor any other of Beverly Hills' current top management worked for the district in 1989. But about half of the present teaching staff was involved in that year's tumultuous walkout.

The strike was called after teachers demanded a 10.5% raise and the district offered 6%. It ended with the two sides agreeing on 6%, plus a bonus tied to a city parcel-tax election. That tax was eventually defeated by voters.

During the walkout students at Beverly Hills High School hurled books, papers and furniture out of second-story classroom windows as teachers picketed. At one point, 150 teachers marched on fashionable Rodeo Drive to complain that their low salaries prevented them from even thinking about shopping there.

There were confrontations between strikers and strikebreakers. "How do you get out of the bed in the morning without a spine?" taunted Beverly Hills High history teacher Steve Taylor.

Now union president, Taylor still teaches history and economics. And he's torn between union strike history and district economics.

He feels the money is there, Taylor said. But he wants to avoid "an us-versus-them" showdown.

"We've been there, done that," he said.

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