Thursday, June 05, 2008

Los Angeles teachers protest budget cuts

The Los Angeles Times
June 4, 2008

The Los Angeles Unified School District's attempt to stop teachers from protesting proposed state budget cuts by reporting to work one hour late this week was denied Tuesday.

The state Public Employee Relations Board declined to file for an injunction on the district's behalf, so the demonstration, organized by the United Teachers Los Angeles union, should take place as planned Friday.

Teachers are expected to spend the first hour of the day picketing outside their schools, which means classes will be delayed and students will be supervised by aides and administrators.

The teachers are protesting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget, which would result in a $353-million shortfall for L.A. Unified.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget next week, but district officials have said they will have to lay off teachers and cut programs to balance the books.

District officials asked the employee relations board last week to stop the protest, saying they were concerned about safety, especially at schools that have experienced student violence.

Police had to break up a brawl at Locke High School in South Los Angeles last month that involved 600 students.

"I'm concerned that we are going to have kids at school unsupervised for an hour or kids who choose not to go to school at all. Neither situation is a good one," board member Tamar Galatzan said.

Employee relations board members could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

David Holmquist, the district's chief operating officer, said that he was disappointed in the decision but that L.A. Unified still hoped to prevent the walkout and would file for a temporary restraining order this week.

"We are going to do everything we can to ensure student safety," he said.

Union President A.J. Duffy said the protest would not endanger students and was the best way to draw attention to the budget shortfall. Teachers will not be paid for the time they spend picketing, and "that's the strongest message we can send that these budget cuts will hurt our kids," he said.

Duffy said he expected as many as 40,000 teachers to participate. "Anyone who doesn't will be crossing a picket line," he said.

District officials and principals have started making contingency plans. At Hancock Park Elementary School, students will be divided among five campus locations, where they will be overseen by aides, parent volunteers and administrators, and will spend the time in reading activities and physical education, Principal Judith Perez said.

Perez said she expected all of her teachers to picket and that they would be welcomed back on campus after the demonstration.

"There's no hostility," Perez said. "I respect UTLA and their decisions."
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