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Commentary

Pact With Teachers Is a 'Good Bargain'

January 28, 2001|ROY ROMER | Roy Romer is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District

In the recent contract negotiations between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union, I had two primary objectives.

The first was to raise teachers' pay to the average or median of the districts surrounding us so that we could be competitive in hiring new teachers. The second was to return to the district certain authority to assign teachers to classes and tracks and to appoint coordinators (whose authority was given away by the district 10 years ago).

Those two objectives were accomplished. Teachers' pay was raised an average of 11% (with an added .02% increase for those with a master's degree or doctorate), which brought us near to the county median salary for teachers. Under the agreement, principals can assign about 40% of the faculty (all non-credentialed teachers and teachers with less than two years experience) to tracks and grade levels. Also, they can assign a permanent teacher with seniority to a class or track if there is a good educational reason. The teacher has the right to a fair appeal if he or she does not agree.

All this is new. It is a very substantial change that gives principals the opportunity to be responsible for what happens in their schools, and it protects teachers from arbitrary treatment.

There were two ways to approach these negotiations. One way would have been to negotiate the settlement at 11%, get more equity for all students in gaining access to experienced teachers and return to principals the authority to manage the schools better. The alternative would have been a strike--or some other prolonged confrontation. In that case, we would have ended up with a settlement of a 10% salary increase and no improvement of equity for students and with no return of authority.

This difference of 1% equals about $21 million. It was better to pay the extra 1% and get more equity for students and the ability to manage back in principals' hands. The extra 1% was right and fair because it helped bring our teachers' pay nearer to the county average. This agreement is a good bargain.

Now, how to pay for it. We need to find the $21 million to settle at 11% rather than 10% (there was no settlement in sight for less than 10%). The district actually needs $100 million to balance this year's budget. We will find it without cutting textbooks, the reading program or the new math program, or reducing the money needed to maintain clean schools. This $100 million is 1/10th of 1% of our total budget.

Where did this shortfall come from? It's a combination of the salary package, meeting the needs of special-ed students, meeting the needs of students held back since the end of social promotion and increased utility costs. We can solve this problem.

The union membership is expected to vote in mid-February on this contract. All of us who care about our public schools need to come together to identify ways to make this district operate more efficiently and more effectively so we can build on the successes we are starting to experience in many of our schools.

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