Nine months after their contract expired, about 150 Inglewood teachers gathered Wednesday to protest their school district's unwillingness to budge from a 1% raise offer.
Carrying signs that accused the district of insulting teachers, protesters stood in front of district headquarters and listened to union leaders talk with a hand-held loudspeaker.
Several times, passing cars honked as union supporters chanted, "No 1%! No 1%!"
The rally came after the district sent, then rescinded, termination notices to more than 180 teachers in recent weeks, a move that union members viewed as intimidation.
"It's a slap in the face," said Dawn Wynne, a third-grade teacher at Worthington Elementary School. "If you want highly qualified teachers, then pay us as if we're highly qualified."
Wynne, who also serves on the union's organizing team, said some of the termination letters were sent a day after the deadline for notifying teachers that they might not be retained next year. And some of the notices went to tenured teachers, Wynne said, who have more protection from firing. About two weeks later, she said, the district told teachers they would keep their jobs.
Last week, in a letter to parents, schools Supt. Pamela Short-Powell defended the district's position in negotiations with teachers, writing that funding has dropped as students have left the district.
"The reality is that declining enrollment has brought major challenges" for the district, she wrote. "As fewer students equal fewer dollars, potential staff reductions are necessary."
More than half of the school districts in Los Angeles County face declining enrollments, said Kenneth Shelton, assistant superintendent at the county's Office of Education.
He attributed the drop to various factors, including California's declining birthrate, parents being forced out by rising housing costs, and charter schools, which enroll an increasing number of former public school students.
"The stress is that when districts have to readjust and resize for the population they serve, they have to look at staff," he said.
In March 1993 and June 1997, financial problems in the Inglewood district triggered AB 1200, a state measure that allows county- or state-appointed advisors to intervene in a district's budgetary decisions during times of fiscal turmoil. To keep that from recurring, Inglewood's board approved a 4% budgetary reserve rate -- one percentage point more than required.
If Inglewood were to face such financial problems again, the law would not allow it to renege on collective bargaining agreements such as pay raises -- even if those agreements led to insolvency.
Shelton, who was Inglewood's advisor after its problems a decade ago, said that if the school board approves a big salary increase this year, teachers might face more dire consequences in coming years. School closures, for example, could leave hundreds of workers jobless.
"If you're giving salary adjustments, you may be able to afford it this year," Shelton said. But "it's kind of like lightning striking. Things can happen all of a sudden."