Healing Rifts From a Divisive Strike


THE nation's second largest school district now faces the formidable task of healing deep wounds in the wake of an emotional strike that could influence bargaining in other districts across the country. While teachers were expected to return to work as early as today, it will likely be some time before normalcy is restored to classrooms after the Tabasco-tempered 11-day walkout.

Throughout the strike by United Teachers-Los Angeles, many of the district's 594,000 students stayed away from schools. Thus returning teachers and pupils will have to make up for almost two weeks of missed work as year-end grading and graduations fast approach.

Many teachers will be returning harboring hard feelings about those who crossed picket lines - feelings not likely to dissipate soon.

``I'm sure something better will come out of this,'' says Odette Vanderschans, a teacher at Hollywood High School. ``But it is going to be hard.''

Also needing to be overcome will be the mistrust that existed between Los Angeles Unified School District administrators and the teachers' union even before the strike began. Under the agreement reached Thursday, ending the first walkout here in 19 years, teachers will be given more administrative control in school affairs, which means the two groups will have to work more closely than ever.

``They have to work together to make it work,'' says Allan Odden, an education professor at the University of Southern California.

Teachers received a hefty pay hike in the settlement - one slightly less than they had originally sought but more than the district initially offered. The union sought a 26 percent increase over three years; the school district offered 21.5 percent over the same period. Teachers get 8 percent raises in each of the next three years.

That will bring a beginning teacher's salary by the end of this year to $25,300 - the highest of any of the 15 largest school districts in the United States. The top salary, $46,340, will be the second highest.

This week's pact will not automatically spur more strikes or calls for big hikes in other school districts across the country. In recent years, teacher walkouts have been relatively rare - in part because teacher salaries have been on the rise. Where there have been confrontations, teachers' working conditions have been the dominant issue.

THE settlement might, however, raise salary expectations in California.

The state recently calculated it will run a $2.5 billion surplus, much of which will be funneled into education.

The unexpected existence of the kitty was one factor in pushing negotiations along here.

On Tuesday, after talks broke down, state lawmakers from Los Angeles and representatives from the union and the school district met in Sacramento.

The lawmakers talked of funneling an additional $48.5 million to the district to cover teachers salaries. At the same time, the legislators expressed their displeasure at the breakdown in negotiations.

Of more interest nationally may be the school governance aspect of the agreement.

The plan will set up a school-based management system in which teachers and district appointees have equal representation on councils that decide such things as discipline and staff development.

Although the pact gives teachers far less control in school affairs then some other city districts have granted, any shift toward more school-based decision-making in a district as large as Los Angeles is considered important at a time when education reform remains a hot topic.

``Whether it is big reform or little reform, other unions will be looking at it,'' says Michael Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University.

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