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Deal could restore jobs to many laid-off Los Angeles teachers

July 14, 2009 | 11:33 am

Los Angeles teachers would surrender some compensation in exchange for preserving jobs under terms being negotiated between the teachers union and the Los Angeles Unified School District, The Times has learned.

The deal, if completed, would reverse many, if not most, of just over 2,000 teacher layoffs that took effect on July 1.

A key to the bargain is about $65 million in class-size reduction money that is expected to be available from the state, said sources close to the talks. Faced with a budget deficit, L.A. Unified surrendered these dollars rather than pay its share of what it costs to lower class sizes to a ratio of 20 to 1 for students in kindergarten through third grade. But if the union agrees to compensation concessions, the district would then have funds to qualify for the extra money. The lower class sizes would mean more classroom jobs.

Elementary teachers would be in line to reap the benefit, although the discussions have included possible ways to rehire secondary teachers as well.

The union membership would have to approve the deal, but union leaders could sell the pact as getting added value in exchange for the sacrifice.

The terms of the giveback are still being worked out. But a one-year freeze of automatic wage increases based on experience and training would save $65 million, according to district calculations. A temporary districtwide wage reduction of 1% would save $40 million.

An agreement on this type of trade-off could have been reached months ago, but the leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles has previously opposed all concessions as unnecessary -- or at least premature until the school system made more reductions elsewhere. Union president A.J. Duffy also pushed the district to use all of its federal economic stimulus money immediately rather than spreading it across the next two budget years, as the district plans to do. Duffy declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations except to say that he was encouraged by how they were going. 

Over the past few months, the state budget picture has worsened, and even a deal now would not spare the unions and the district from facing deep layoffs next year.

Because the potential pact is so late in coming, some teachers have found jobs elsewhere and some schools already have hired replacements. That means one goal of both sides — keeping school faculties intact — may not be realized.

A partial exception to this outcome could be the 10 schools under the stewardship of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. These schools were especially hard-hit by layoffs because they employ a large number of teachers with limited seniority. In anticipation of a possible deal, the mayor’s team agreed to pay for the health benefits of laid-off teachers through July. They also hired laid-off staff as long-term substitutes at their schools. The strategy was to keep these teachers at hand and solvent pending a deal that would save jobs, said Marshall Tuck, chief executive of the mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

Overall, teachers union officials have remained critical of the mayor’s team. They say the partnership has given teachers little input into managing its schools — in contrast, they say, to promises that were made.

The district, too, has processed laid-off teachers as substitutes, but has not to date provided a healthcare subsidy or kept all former positions open at schools in anticipation of a return of the laid-off staff.

All told, the district laid off 2,057 teachers as of July 1, of which 1,574 are elementary teachers. The remainder are secondary English and social studies teachers, according to district figures.

-- Howard Blume

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