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E.C. school district responds to strike rumors, emergency action set Tuesday

April 07, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

In response to rumors that El Centro Elementary School District teachers may strike, the school board will take action Tuesday on a resolution establishing emergency procedures in the event of a teacher walkout.

Everett Taylor, associate superintendent of the district, said the board "is aware that the teachers' union has been talking about a job action. … We're preparing for that."

Board Trustee Alicia Armenta said, "We have to be honest with the situation. The possibility (of a strike) is always out there.

"We hope a strike is the last thing on people's minds," she said.

"We're preparing in the event that it (a strike) should occur," said Taylor, adding, "We're hoping it doesn't happen."

Calling the resolution "prudent," board President Ron Hull said the board is making sure it is "prepared for all contingencies."

The resolution, available in the background materials of Tuesday's school district board meeting agenda packet, states that "any concerted refusal to work by employees is disruptive to the educational process, and thus an emergency."


The document goes on to list the powers district Superintendent Michael Klentschy could exercise at his discretion in the event of a "serious threat" or an "actual concerted refusal to work."

Those powers include the superintendent's ability to hire emergency "guest employees," or substitute teachers, at the rate of $250 per day and it gives the superintendent authority to work "directly with the legal counsel" to take "whatever legal action is necessary to protect the best interests of the district."

Armenta said, "First and foremost should be the safety of our children, and that there is education occurring in the classroom. It is our responsibility that it does occur.

"I hope all of us will be thinking about the children and what might occur" if there is a strike, Armenta added.

El Centro Elementary Teachers' Association president Bruce Roberts said Friday it is the teachers' intention to avoid a strike but indicated the district could be forcing the issue.

"The board is making the move first," he said, denying any preparation by the teachers' association for a strike.

"They are claiming we're promoting a strike. We are primarily discouraging this and they're preparing for it," Roberts said, adding the district is "telling their people to prepare for it, while the association hasn't. They're giving directives to the administration to prepare for it."

Still, Roberts said it is important the teachers also be prepared in the event of a walkout, "but our position has been, and is still, to do everything we can to avoid a strike."

Of the school board's resolution, he added, "If they're preparing for it, why aren't they preparing to avoid it? I'd like to see them preparing to avoid it."

A teacher at Sunflower Elementary School, requesting anonymity because of fear of retaliation by administration, said, "The teachers feel awful, like there's no effort on their side to solve this problem."

Roberts said no strike would occur until a fact-finding panel set up to debate the contract negotiations can meet and confer.

"Legally it (a strike) can't take place until after fact-finding," Roberts said. "I believe there is a strong chance there will be a resolution."

The fact-finding panel meets May 8 and must present its recommendation to each side before June 8.

"We are focusing our efforts toward fact-finding," Taylor said.

"Everyone is hopeful we will reach a settlement," said Armenta. "We're hoping that when it (fact-finding) occurs, both sides will look at the recommendation and come to some type of an agreement."

Hull agreed, saying, "We hope to get this thing settled."

Armenta said she feels the attention should "focus on the good job teachers have done in the classroom and have done in the past. That attention has been deviated."

For two years the teachers and the school board have been at odds over employment contract negotiations.

In other district business being addressed Tuesday, the board will consider a vote of appreciation and confidence in Klentschy, which comes in response to the "no confidence" vote by the teachers March 21. The board also will consider a resolution establishing May 9 as "Teacher Appreciation Day."

Calling the latter resolution a "left-handed compliment," Roberts said, "It strikes me as being ironic. They praise the teachers, but it seems to be as far as they go."

Roberts added the teachers plan to rally prior to the board meeting and he said several teachers will address the board during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the board room of the El Centro Elementary School District Office, 1256 Broadway.

Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.

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