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LOS ANGELES

Schools OK Health Pact

Labor: L.A. Unified and its seven unions agree on benefits, and trustees approve a final budget. But teachers still want a pay raise.

September 04, 2002|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Unified School District and its seven unions reached agreement on health benefits Tuesday, solving one of the most crucial issues in ongoing labor negotiations.

The district's new health plan will maintain current medical coverage for more than 100,000 active and retired district employees for 2003. The school district had said it didn't have enough money to cover rising health coverage rates.

The benefits were among the last items to be added before the Board of Education approved the final 2002-03 budget by a vote of 4 to 1. Two board members abstained.

Sam Kresner, a United Teachers Los Angeles member and chairman of the labor-controlled health benefits committee, said resolution of the health benefits issue was a welcome development. But the teachers union, whose current contract ends next June, is still demanding a 5% wage increase that district leaders say they cannot afford.

The benefits "are a great add-on, but they don't take the place of having a decent salary," Kresner said.

The final budget came three weeks after the district found an extra $228 million in unspent funds from last year. Budget officials proposed several expenditures to ease the effect of $455 million in cutbacks in recent months to cover a massive shortfall.

The district used $56 million to cover rising health coverage costs; $20 million will be used to replenish the workers' compensation fund; $350,000 will go for an expanded lobbyist registration and ethics program; and $11 million will be spent to address problems at 10 troubled schools targeted for criticism by the state last year.

The district has $26 million left after the planned expenditures, which would be enough for only a 1% raise for teachers.

Supt. Roy Romer said he is hopeful that pay negotiations will come to a satisfactory conclusion, but said he doesn't know where the money for raises would come from.

Board member Julie Korenstein abstained from voting on the budget because the current budget does not include any provision for salary increases.

Board member Genethia Hudley Hayes said she voted against the budget because the superintendent's staff failed to list among its fiscal priorities the closing of the achievement gap between poor and wealthier students.

Board member Jose Huizar echoed Hayes' concerns and said he abstained because he objected to cutbacks, especially a measure that saved $70 million by increasing class sizes in grades 4 to 12.

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