By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The trick is, apparently, to be strong and independent, but never have the misfortune to disagree with the mayor on something he cares strongly about. Of course, such an instance had never previously crystallized in the public domain. Riordan has carefully refrained from openly taking sides on matters before the board -- until now. Said Riordan: ”I was actually hesitant to do it, but I felt I had to back Genethia Hayes, Caprice Young and Mike Lansing“ -- the three Riordan endorsees who form the minority bloc opposing the teachers‘ contract.
For her part, Caprice Young says the teachers’ contract is indicative of a larger failing in the early Romer administration. Romer, she said, is too busy putting out fires -- and she conceded there are many -- to devise long-term plans for managing the district‘s money. Young said she’s unwilling to vote for a raise of this magnitude without seeing how it affects other critical needs, such as expanding reading programs: ”I don‘t have a problem with the level of increase if the superintendent can put it in the context of his overall goals and priorities, so we can know what we’re trading off.“
This logic is maddening to teachers who follow board politics. A similar level of budgetary restraint -- or long-term planning -- was not in evidence when the board voted last year to divide the district into 11 administrative regions. That plan was sold as a move to improve service while cutting costs. The verdict remains out on the service part, but first-year administrative costs are up, not down. The budget just for opening new administrative offices is $18 million, according to district staff. Moreover, there was no outcry from the Mayor‘s Office or the three board critics of the contract when senior administrative salaries climbed at a higher rate than that now proposed for teachers.
In fact, a vocal contingent of teachers oppose the negotiated contract. It angers them that they had to bargain for a stipulated right to a clean classroom or teaching supplies, which is indeed part of the contract’s ”Classroom Bill of Rights.“ Shouldn‘t the district be providing such things already? Isn’t that in the best interests of the children as well as teachers? They are especially unhappy over the weakening of the seniority system, which allowed teachers to choose classroom assignments based on who‘d taught in the district the longest. Teachers achieved this privilege in exchange for absorbing a 10 percent pay cut during the cash-strapped 1992-1993 school year, money that has never been fully restored.
The revised procedure would allow principals to assign all nonpermanent teachers -- about 40 percent of the work force -- so that experienced, fully credentialed teachers can be evenly distributed across grades and across tracks. The hope is that all students would then have equal access to experienced teachers -- not just those students on scheduling tracks favored by senior teachers. Critical teachers counter that this scheduling inequity doesn’t exist at many schools, and that the seniority take-away does nothing to address a greater problem -- the paucity of credentialed teachers at ”undesirable“ schools. Nor does it remedy the absolute shortage of qualified math and science teachers at higher grade levels.
What could help, said board member Fields, is the pay increase, which would raise school-district salaries to approximately the county average. ”We were spending all this money to train teachers, then when they got qualified, they would take a job at some other school district where they could make more money.“
Nonetheless, union reps at two area meetings last week actually voted down the deal in a non-binding tally. Union president Day Higuchi and his top lieutenants are lobbying teachers hard to approve the contract. In one recorded phone message, Higuchi maintained that the only alternative is an unwanted strike. In an interview, he voiced concern that a post-election school board could look more Riordanesque than ever, and could push to take back what‘s already been negotiated. Teachers voted this week, with vote counting scheduled to begin Thursday.
Whether the district can afford the deal without painful budget cuts is the fare of dueling analyses. The money is there, no question, said board member Tokofksy, a onetime Riordan endorsee, who can look forward to the mayor’s displeasure during his 2003 campaign. Four of the seven board members told the Weekly that Superintendent Romer did just as he was told, that is, he traded money for administrative control. They added that they would resist any cuts that would hurt instructional programs.
”Romer moved us farther in one year than anyone else ever has,“ said board member Victoria Castro, a former principal. ”The state Legislature gave us money to cover a 10 percent raise with the expectation that most school districts would use the money for that purpose, and they have. For another 1.5 percent, Romer made progress on the rest of the agenda, which has not moved in 10 years.
“I went through two strikes as a principal. I wasn‘t there for a strike this time. It’s difficult on a teaching staff and the students. In the last year, my constituents have been affected by the janitors‘ strike and the MTA strike, so don’t put these kids through a teachers‘ strike when you know there’s ample money for a pay raise. If teachers don‘t push for this money now, when do they?”