L.A. battens down for teacher strike

  Haya El Nasser


  USA Today


  Page 10A

  (Copyright 1993)


  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

  school system.


  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

  651 schools.


  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