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L.A. schools chief stands by controversial deal to use laid-off teachers as subs [Updated]

October 15, 2009 | 11:47 am

The Los Angeles schools superintendent says he opposes revoking an agreement that has imperiled health benefits for more than 1,000 veteran substitute teachers while costing hundreds of them regular work.

In an interview, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he stands by a deal that was designed to help recently laid-off full-time teachers by giving them preference for available substitute jobs over veteran subs with more seniority.

“This was about how could you re-employ, in some form, as many of the teachers as possible that had received pink slips,” Cortines said in the interview Wednesday. "I had said months earlier I would do everything possible to employ them. The teachers union wanted me to hire them all back, and I could not guarantee that we had the money to do that. This was the second best I could do.”

On July 1, in the midst of a budget crisis, the Los Angeles Unified School District laid off about 2,000 teachers, but then quickly signed up about 1,800 of them who wanted to work as substitutes. On average, the L.A. district, the nation’s second-largest, uses about 2,200 substitutes a day. Substitutes have to work 100 days a year and at least one day a month to maintain health benefits.

Cortines objected to characterizations that he’d entered into a secret deal with A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the district’s teachers union. He noted that plans to use laid-off teachers as substitutes were discussed publicly.

But the decision to override seniority did not emerge for two months, when the district provided a copy of the one-year agreement in response to a request from The Times. In addition, the union did not include representatives of the substitutes in the negotiations -- a violation of internal union rules.

Last week, under pressure from rank-and-file members, the union’s governing body voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the agreement. Duffy said he would try to honor the decision by resuming negotiations with the school district.

Cortines said he had yet to hear from Duffy over the matter. He added that he was not inclined to change operating procedures nearly four months into the school year, which began for some schools in July. He also said union members were unfairly singling out Duffy for blame. He said Duffy’s leadership team was fully involved in the negotiations that led to the agreement.

[Updated at 5:50 p.m.:  Union officials have forwarded to The Times a copy of a letter they said they sent to Cortines on Wednesday requesting the reopening of negotiations over the use of substitute teachers.]

Elected leaders of the substitutes vowed to accelerate their activism on the issue.

“We have to create a sea change in the attitude of the [school] board members who dictate policy to the superintendent,” Dave Peters said in an e-mail to fellow substitutes. Duffy “executed this without lawful authority and his scandalous behavior in this matter calls for his immediate impeachment.”

Duffy has apologized for failing to follow internal union policy, but said he has done nothing improper.

-- Howard Blume

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