La Habra Teachers' Strike Enters Second Day

Teachers show up for another day on the picket line in La Habra.

Thursday marks day two of the La Habra teachers' strike to undo a 2 percent pay reduction and cuts to health care benefits. Teachers are planning on showing up in force at a late-afternoon school board meeting.

About 90 percent of the district's 225 teachers walked picket lines on Wednesday.

According to according to Bill Guy of the California Teachers Association, talks between school district officials and the La Habra Education Association, which represents the district's teachers, broke off Tuesday afternoon.

"It appeared some parents honored the picket lines and did not bring their children to school," Guy said.

It's estimated that about a quarter of the students were held out of school on Wednesday.

"From the comments we got from parents we expect a lot less (Thursday),'' Guy said.

There was no response Wednesday to messages left with the district's superintendent's office to confirm attendance numbers.

Teachers picketed in front of all of the district's nine schools, with the largest group at Imperial Middle School, 1450 S. Schoolwood Drive.

The district's school board voted Nov. 18 to cut teacher salaries by 2 percent and force them to take two furlough days. The teachers will also have to help pay for some of their health insurance benefits.

Teachers earn an average salary of $63,000 with those at the top of the pay scale earning $99,000, Guy said. Teachers could lose between $14,000 to $20,000 in income from the cuts, Guy said.

"In the past when times were better we were able to pay for their health insurance, and now they're being asked to pay for some of that," outgoing school board president Susan Hango said Tuesday.

Hango was expected to be succeeded by board member Linda Navarro Edwards as president at today's board meeting.

The "big sticking point" is the board's insistence on making the cuts permanent, Guy said. That was also what prompted teachers in the Capistrano Unified School District to go on strike in April. That walkout lasted five days before board members agreed to revisit the cuts if the district's fortunes improved.

School board member Sharon Brown said district officials have proposed some language in the teachers' contract that would end the cuts if the economy improves and the district receives more funds from the state, but union leaders have rejected the offers.
Hango said the cuts were necessary because of declining revenue from the state.

"We're dependent on the state and you know what situation the state of California is in so we're needing to be cost conscious," Hango said. "We have to be very, very careful how our money is spent."

Union leaders say the district has $8.2 million in reserves and is not as poor as school officials contend. However, Brown said about half that money is restricted and cannot be used for salaries.

If the cuts aren't made, the district's reserves will dip below the legally mandated threshold, Brown said. District officials can't promise to stop the cuts by a certain date because there's no way to know when the economy will improve, Brown said.

"It should be obvious to anyone that we will restore the furlough days when we can because we want our kids in school," Brown said. "Everyone wants that as soon as we get the revenue to do that."

Brown, a retired teacher, said she supports higher pay for teachers, but the district cannot afford it now. "We are responsible for preserving the solvency of our school district and I don't care how close I am to the teachers," Brown said. "I can't take an action that would bankrupt the school district."

District officials expect to save $220,000 over two years with the cuts.

Union leaders expect a large number of teachers to attend today's school board meeting. No negotiations are scheduled, Guy said.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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