Teachers' strike looms for Capistrano Unified

ALISO VIEJO, Calif. It's a normal day for students at Oak Grove Elementary School, but for their parents and teachers, the worry is great.

"I think it's really sad it's come to this," said parent Anna Johnson.

More than 2,000 teachers in South Orange County could walk off the job. Last week, union members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike to protest 10 percent pay cuts imposed by the Capistrano Unified School District over two years.

The move comes after rallies by parents and students to try to avoid a strike and after nearly a year of unsuccessful negotiations.

"I would love to see the teachers and the board get back together and work something out for the better of the children," said parent Luisa Naegele.

Late Monday afternoon, the teacher's union sent a letter to the school district offering to return to negotiations and accepting the district's proposed 10 percent provided that it's only temporary. The union said this cut should expire June 30, 2011, and they're giving the district until Tuesday 5 p.m. to accept.

"At the end of the two years, the cuts would be restored back to today's level. We would go back to the bargaining table to see what the economic situation would be at that point in time and renegotiate," said Vicki Soderberg of the Capistrano Unified Education Association.

The school district will only say it has received the union's letter. In the past, the district has said it would be willing to discuss any formal written proposal if offered by the union.

"It would be received by our negotiating team and they would go back to the table to discuss those issues," said Julie Hatchel, a Capistrano Unified School District spokesperson.

Capistrano unified has been preparing for the possibility of a strike, and officials say substitute teachers are ready to step in.

Union officials say parents would be given reasonable notice of possibly less than 48 hours if teachers are going to walk off the job. The union says it wants to avoid a strike and hopes to hear from the district soon.

"We're very anxious and very hopeful we'll hear form theme soon," said Soderberg.

If the school district does not reply to the union's proposal by Tuesday's deadline, union officials say they'll take that as a refusal from the school to return to the bargaining table. However, the union isn't saying if such a refusal would lead to an immediate teacher walk out.

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