L.A. battens down for teacher strike
Haya El Nasser
LOS ANGELES _ Police are ready. Substitute teachers are waiting in the wings.
School security is on alert.
But Phyllis Young might not bring her 13-year-old son Daniel to school next
"I don't want to leave him out on his own when the city is going crazy," Young
The countdown has begun toward a Los Angeles teachers' strike, which could
begin Tuesday. A walkout could paralyze the nation's second-largest public
Mediation continues, but all signals are go for a strike.
The district says schools will stay open no matter what. Substitute teachers have
been lured with $155-a-day rates _ a $50 hike _ and administrators and parent
volunteers will pitch in, spokeswoman Diana Munatones says. "And we expect
some teachers to remain in the classroom."
But those who lived through a 1989 strike fear a lack of classroom supervision
and violence on the picket lines.
Residents have plenty of reasons to feel edgy as it is. The Rodney King beating
trial is under way and another racially charged trial _ three black men accused of
beating white truck driver Reginald Denny _ starts next month.
"The city is at a boiling point," says Catherine Carey, with the 26,000-teachers
union, United Teachers Los Angeles. "The safety issue is not only for picketers.
It's for the students."
A police emergency operations center at City Hall and an additional 1,000 patrol
officers will be on duty. Teachers, buoyed by strong public support have picket
signs ready in English and Spanish.
The strike would protest a cumulative 12% pay cut imposed by the district to
help offset a $400 million deficit in the district's $3.9 billion budget.
But there are other union concerns: Overcrowding, faltering student performance
and top-heavy bureaucracy.
Between 1989 and 1992, enrollment swelled by 45,000 to 641,000 _ 65%
Hispanic. More than 40 students squeeze into some classrooms.
Two controversial plans to revamp the mammoth school district are on the table.
One would break up the district, which stretches over 708 square miles, into at
least seven smaller ones. The other would decentralize it, giving autonomy to its
The break-up proposal is getting stiff opposition by minority activists who say it
would lead to school segregation. It's getting no support from the district and
But backers _ including State Sen. David Roberti who just introduced a bill to
put the plan on the 1994 ballot _ say the district is so completely integrated that
racial diversity will remain even after a split.
"The only way to change is to come up with smaller districts where parents and
teachers can stay on top of the administration of the district," Roberti says.
Says Allan Odden, professor of education policy at the University of Southern
California: "A strike will put sand in the oil for any substantive changes."
Contributing: Jonathan Lovitt