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L.A. school board chief meets with teachers willing to accept pay cuts

April 6, 2009 |  7:40 am

A top Los Angeles school district official is meeting this morning with teachers who are breaking with their union to support pay cuts as a way to avoid layoffs.

Board of Education President Monica Garcia will huddle with teachers from Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, just west of downtown, where more than 30 young or less experienced faculty members have received notice that they might lose their jobs at the end of the year. Delegations from other schools also are expected to attend.

"The concern is that there are schools that are disproportionately impacted by the seniority rule,” Garcia said in an interview Sunday. “At Contreras they’re saying, ‘We’re willing to take on the shared sacrifice so our colleagues can stay at the school.' ”

Next week, the school board is scheduled to act on proposals to slash more than $700 million from the nearly $6 billion general fund of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines agreed to postpone the vote last week in an effort to pursue alternatives to nearly 9,000 layoffs.

Thirty-two veteran Contreras teachers, whose jobs are safe, have signed a letter signaling their willingness to take unpaid days off rather than lose colleagues, whom the letter characterized as “our future generation of teachers and school staff.” The letter continued: “A number of tenured teachers at [Contreras] are willing to take two weeks or more in furlough days to save the jobs of so many of our great new teachers and staff.”

The school work year includes a few days during which students are not in class. The proposed furloughs are likely to apply first to these portions of the schedule. But furloughs totaling more than several days would result inevitably in a shorter school year.

Garcia said she is not inclined to go that far because it would hurt students too much.

The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles has vowed to oppose any layoffs of teachers, but has also opposed any decrease in pay, including furloughs.

One furlough day for all district employees would save $15 million. Money from a federal economic stimulus plan will offset a substantial portion of the district’s deficit, but various factions are still debating over how and how much of this money can be used to save jobs.

Twenty teachers at Del Olmo Elementary School in Koreatown also signed a petition in support of furloughs. At Del Olmo, 26 of 47 teachers, about two-thirds of the faculty, received notice that they might be laid off, said second-year teacher Robert Contreras, who is among those facing unemployment. Student achievement at Del Olmo has risen rapidly and some staff members have even talked about becoming a charter school rather than accepting a massive faculty turnover, Contreras said.

The other hardest-hit schools include West Adams Preparatory High School, southwest of downtown, where students, parents and teachers rallied Friday night against possible layoffs.

In supporting a discussion of furlough days, Garcia is echoing the position of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, with whom she is closely allied. Through a nonprofit organization, Villaraigosa is overseeing improvement efforts at 10 low-performing campuses. At one of them, the Santee Education Complex, south of downtown, a group of teachers acting without union sanction recently boycotted classes for an hour to call attention to imminent layoffs and a looming increase in class sizes.

For its part, the teachers union leadership has applied pressure on district officials by helping to organize numerous demonstrations outside of class time. But union leaders also must contend with internal dissent. Last week, the union’s House of Representatives voted to recommend a “no” vote on a recent contract settlement, even though it avoids furlough days and other pay reductions.

-- Howard Blume