With the threat of mayoral takeover hanging over Los Angeles Unified, the teachers union has opened contract negotiations with a demand for a 14 percent, one-year raise for its members. Stunned by the demand, LAUSD officials are grumbling behind the scenes that United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy is trying to exploit the political situation posed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s push for control of the schools. The union has publicly opposed mayoral takeover and Duffy denied in an interview that he was trying to use the political tug-of-war over the LAUSD to his benefit. “I have said I would move heaven and earth to do what was necessary to dismantle the bloated LAUSD democracy and people have taken that and reinterpreted it to mean that Duffy would go to the mayor in a minute,” Duffy said. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinals“I have never said I would go over to Antonio. “The district would be misinterpreting the motive of UTLA if they thought we were asking for 14 percent simply because we had leverage with the mayoral takeover. “Teachers in the county of Los Angeles are in the bottom quartile and UTLA is committed to bringing them into the top quartile, which would require a 12 to 14 percent increase.” UTLA officials emphasize that they will “decide and publicize” their actual salary demands for the 48,000 teachers and health and human service professionals they represent after the final state budget is passed. While the move is part bargaining strategy – start high to end up where you’re really aiming to land – it’s also a means to leverage a compromise with regard to the mayor’s takeover plan, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior scholar at the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that large a leap in one cycle. This is a significantly dramatic leap over a one-year period,” Jeffe said. “But I would be more surprised if they didn’t do it. It’s a smart political strategy and a smart negotiating strategy on two levels – in terms of an increase in salary and on the part of where the teachers stand with regard to the mayor’s takeover plan.” The state cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is approaching 6 percent, which makes the salary proposal a dumbfounding one, board member David Tokofsky said. “Duffy must be drinking a very strong COLA – this is cola-plus, like Jolt or that Austrian drink Red Bull,” Tokofsky cracked. “Every topic they have raised are important issues, but I don’t think they all need to be solved at the collective bargaining table. All of them should be resolved one way or another by the new superintendent.” District officials agree that the request is an unusually high one – even for an initial contract proposal. “This is an unusually high amount for an initial request. I’m sure the fact that there is going to be money coming back to education from the state makes it an opportunity for UTLA, and although our teachers’ salaries are competitive, they’re not the highest,” said Deborah Hirsh, the LAUSD’s chief human-resources officer. The average teacher salary in the LAUSD is $56,652. The vast majority of funds the district is expecting to receive from the state this year are one-time moneys, and officials warn they should not be spent on salaries. “I’m not expecting all this money next year, so I don’t want to put any of those dollars into ongoing expenses,” board member Mike Lansing said. “It’s higher than anything I’ve seen since I’ve been here and I don’t know what the rationale is for that. I’m waiting to hear from our negotiating team and UTLA on how they would expect us to fund that type of request.” Board President Marlene Canter said she would reserve reaction to the initial proposal until negotiations start at the bargaining table. “I would be very disappointed if the takeover conversation became used as leverage in our bargaining process,” Canter said. “I’m not going to overreact to it. I’m going to wait and see how this proceeds through the collective bargaining process.” If board members bow to the demand, they could be perceived as weak. If they don’t, they risk having the union back Villaraigosa’s efforts. Former UTLA President John Perez said a proposal to put LAUSD teachers among the highest paid in the county is not a new one. However, it is the first time the initial proposal included a percentage increase. “This year, the district has more money than it has in the past, and it seems to me they can give a better pay raise. Anytime they belittle the negotiating position of the union, they’re just playing politics and gamesmanship.” Jeffe noted the union risks being perceived as greedy or abusing its position. “Does the school board want to be put in the position of being perceived as kowtowing to the union? There might be a backlash. It’s a sticky situation for everyone,” Jeffe said. “If they win, they get an incredible pay increase. If they lose, I presume they still get a nice pay increase.” [email protected] (818) 713-3722 SALARIES Here is a list of the average salaries earned by Los Angeles Unified teachers over the past 10 years. The figures do not include health or other benefits: Year, Salary, Increase 1996-97 $41,499 2.0% 1997-98 $43,989 6.0% 1998-99 $45,749 4.0% 1999-00 $46,664 2.0% 2000-01 $51,472 11.9% 2001-02 $53,103 0.0% 2002-03 $53,827 3.0% 2003-04 $54,627 0.0% 2004-05 $56,400 2.0% 2005-06 $56,652 2.5% Source: LAUSD160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!