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Doughnuts a sticky issue in school labor dispute

Teachers upset over having a student nutrition break on 'minimum' days serve Krispy Kremes to kids in the Centinela Valley district. The superintendent says making youths 'pawns' is 'unconscionable.'

December 19, 2009|By Seema Mehta

Lawndale teachers protesting a dispute with the Centinela Valley Union High School District distributed doughnuts to students during their nutrition period Friday morning so the children would not eat free snacks provided by the district.

Acknowledging that the sugar-filled treats are not nutritious, Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Assn. President Erik Carlstone noted that Friday was the last day of school before winter break.

"Students deserve a treat," he said.

District officials denounced the teachers' tactics.

"It's unconscionable for them to use the students as pawns," said Supt. Jose Fernandez, who added that the Krispy Kreme doughnuts distributed are full of sugar and fat, and go against district efforts to combat obesity in young people.

The union is protesting a disagreement with the district about minimum days, shortened school days that are typically scheduled at the end of a semester or before a vacation, such as Friday, when school ended shortly after 1 p.m.

Carlstone said that during contract negotiations last year, the union agreed to one 20-minute lunch period on minimum days, and no 15-minute nutrition, or snack, period.

But Fernandez said that the contract is silent about the matter, and that it's critically important to give the students a healthy snack.

About 80% receive free- or reduced-price lunches, a measure of poverty. "For some of these kids, this might be the last good meal they get for two weeks," he said.

Additionally, the union's action cost the district $11,000 -- $10,000 in lost federal funds and $1,000 in food that workers prepared that had to be thrown away. "In a school district this small, dealing with budget problems, that's a fourth of a teacher," he said.

Carlstone said the district is reneging on their agreement. "That really infuriated the bargaining team and a lot of the members," he said.

If there were no nutrition period, teachers could leave 15 minutes earlier.

He added that teachers are constantly being asked to work more without seeing an increase in pay.

"A lot of teachers are very protective of their time. A lot of teachers spend so much time after school, help students with homework and tutoring," Carlstone said.

"Most times, minimum days are the last days of the semester or break. It didn't seem to make sense to keep them longer on those days, within the context of how hard they are working otherwise."

So the union spent $2,000 to buy doughnuts for the district's 7,800 students.

Carlstone said that if the district fails to reconsider, the union will file an unfair labor practices claim.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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