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Teachers demand furlough day cancellation

With ninth attempt scheduled, neither district nor union shows signs of backing down on this contentious issue.

November 02, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • Language teacher Cendy Iraheta teaches Spanish to students at Mountain View Elementary. (File photo)
Language teacher Cendy Iraheta teaches Spanish to students…

A tug of war between Glendale Unified officials and union leaders reached a new pitch this week when teachers showed up at district headquarters en masse to demand the cancellation of at least three unpaid furlough days scheduled during the next two academic years.

“If I remember correctly, the district promised parents and teachers that if Measure S passed, $20 million would be freed up to get rid of these furlough days,” Glendale Teachers Assn. President Tami Carlson said to the applause of the more than 100 teachers at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “Well, Measure S has passed and funds are being transferred into that account. Take away the furlough days like you have promised.”

Bargaining teams are scheduled to return to the negotiation table today to try and hammer out a deal — the ninth attempt in 10 months. At stake are seven unpaid furlough days scheduled during the next two years, the first of which is March 16, 2012.

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Each teacher furlough day is worth $458,450 to the district, according to Eva Lueck, chief business and financial officer for the district.

The days were included in an August 2010 agreement reached between the two parties amid steep cuts in state education funding. But with the district coffers buffered somewhat by one-time federal dollars, the teachers union asked that the three furlough days for 2011-12 be eliminated and the four 2012-13 days be negotiated as needed.

“The savings will only go to increase your reserves,” union secretary and math teacher Taline Arsenian said. “So why not give back what rightfully belongs to us and only take from teachers and students when the need arises? It is the right thing to do.”

Two furlough days scheduled for the 2010-11 school year were canceled in fall 2010. But district officials have refused to eliminate the remaining seven days outright, instead proposing to defer them by one year.

The move, they said, will afford Glendale Unified a bit of flexibility amid the state budget crisis.

“What we’re trying to do is create stability in an unstable time,” Supt. Dick Sheehan said. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of mistrust and that is what it boils down to. Our goal is to push them out two years in the hopes that we never have to enact them.”

Union leaders have repeatedly argued that the district’s reserves, at more than $70 million, afford it plenty of room to buy back the furlough days.

“This district has a whale of reserves,” Carlson said.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time that the union has publicly pressured the district. In May 2010, several dozen teachers staged a candlelight vigil outside school board member Greg Krikorian’s home to demand the withdrawal of 77 layoff notices.

But Lueck has repeatedly said that the reserve figure is bloated by millions in one-time federal dollars that are being quickly exhausted. Without that money, the district would be $11.9 million in the red this year alone, she said.

“Without those one-time dollars, that deficit grows to $21.6 million in 2013-14,” Lueck said Tuesday. “That is our challenge. Yes, we have money in the current year, we have significant dollars. But as we move forward, if the state does not provide us with any additional revenue to help us with our structural deficit, we have a problem we need to deal with.”

[NOTE: This post has been updated from a previous version.]

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